6 Meat Substitutes That Taste Just as Good (or Maybe Better!)
- Priya Krishna
- 4 Min Read
It’s officially no longer a meat and potatoes world. According to the Vegetarian Times, there are at least 7.3 million vegetarians in America. And there are an additional 22.8 million people who follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet.” That means it’s even more important to understand the various meat substitutes out there. But if you think that tofu and black-bean burgers are the be all, end all, you’d be very wrong. Meat alternatives have come along way over the past few years. So, here are six great ideas for you to consider.
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit native to south India. It’s fleshy, edible petals taste mildly tart and starchy. When boiled or roasted, the flavor of jackfruit becomes slightly more neutral. So it soaks in other flavors nicely. And the texture becomes very similar to pulled pork. As a result, it is used quite often as a meat substitute for pulled pork in sandwiches, tacos, barbecue, or curry. At Tito’s Rad Grill, known for its Filipino cuisine, jackfruit is prepared as part of Ginataang Langka. The fruit is sautéed with coconut milk and other seasonings. And a popular favorite at Atlanta’s Vegan Vibez is the BBQ Jackfruit Sliders, pairing spiced jackfruit meat with snappy coleslaw.
Tofu is one of the original meat substitutes. And it’s still one of the most popular. Tofu is made by condensing soy milk into solid white blocks. The taste is fairly mild. But the texture is bouncy and sponge-like, making it the perfect vehicle for absorbing seasonings. It also takes well to sautéing, grilling, or cooking in just about any way you might prepare meat. At Bellagreen near Houston, tofu is grilled and blackened, thick with spices, in the Caribbean style. In Lumpia Shack in New York, tofu is braised in soy-garlic vinegar until super tender, spicy, and briny. Tofu is the ultimate shape-shifter, so it works in almost any kind of dish.
Known as “wheat meat,” seitan is made by filtering out the starch in wheat. All that’s left is a bouncy, high-protein gluten, similar in texture to chicken, or, when sliced thinly, deli meat. Like tofu, seitan is bland by itself in its taste, But as one of your meat alternatives, it can easily take the flavors of things like chicken and beef. Seitan makes a particularly great substitute for dishes like ribs. And it can also be found in stir-fries and sandwiches. Chicago Vietnamese sandwich destination, Banh Mi Baget, makes its signature banh mi with seitan, alongside cucumber, pickled carrots, and cilantro. The Latin-leaning vegan place, V Spot, in Philadelphia, uses seitan in a variety of dishes. They serve it wrapped up in tacos with beans, avocado, and pico de gallo. Or try it in a wrap with vegan cheese, mushrooms, and peppers. Or for something more hearty, it’s ground up in lasagna, coated with marinara and cashew ricotta.
Textured Vegetable Protein
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is usually made of soy flour. or sometimes wheat or oats. It’s concentrated into small nuggets and has a taste similar to raw soybeans. Akin to the texture of ground meat, it’s also quite nutritious. It’s perfect for meat substitutes in burgers, spaghetti sauce, chili, or tacos. One of the most popular versions of TVP can be found in the Impossible Burger, at M Burger in Chicago. TVP perfectly approximates the juicy, craveable taste of a burger, especially when topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and American cheese. After one bite, you won’t even notice it’s not a genuine beef burger.
Originally created in Indonesia, tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans into a thick block. By itself, tempeh has an earthy taste and a dense, grainy texture. Tempeh makes for a great scramble, kebab, or sausage. Walnut Grille in Boston turns tempeh into bacon, curing and salting it, and then stuffing it in a classic BLT. Another genius variation is the chicken-fried tempeh at Brother Baby’s BBQ in San Jose. Tempeh gets spiced, breaded, and fried. And it has all the addictive crunch of the American classic.
Most kinds of beans — black, red, chickpea — are excellent as meat substitutes. They mash easily into burgers, sandwiches, and lasagnas. They soak up spices nicely. And beans have a gentle flavor that complements most others. Try the black bean sliders at Burger 21 in Tampa, FL, with black bean patties topped with sun-dried tomato aioli, cilantro cream, onions, and lettuce. The Veggie Burger at Baagan in San Ramon, CA is made of an Indian-spiced chickpea patty with herbs, cheese, cucumbers, and carrots on a whole-grain bun.
If you’re looking to start Meatless Mondays, we have more great vegetarian and vegan cooking ideas for you.