Vegan Meat Substitutes: What Are the Best Options?

30 April, 2021
Vegan meat substitutes are ideal for preparing a wide variety of recipes without sacrificing flavor. What are the best options? We'll tell you all about them.

In a report published in the Revista Chilena de Nutrición, a group of nutritionists states that the market has increased the availability of vegan meat substitutes and other enriched products whose purpose is to avoid deficiencies and possible health disorders in the vegetarian and vegan community.

In addition, this commercial boom also responds to a growth in the vegetarian and vegan population in Western countries, within the context of a healthy, varied, and adapted diet, as pointed out by the journal Pediatría Integral.

Substitutes must meet certain requirements of ingredients, nutrients, flavors, and textures similar to those of meat. However, not all of them do, so you have to choose the best option.

What are the best options?

Here are the details.

What are vegan meat substitutes?

According to Andújar and other experts, “meat substitutes are food products that have a texture, taste, appearance, and nutritional values similar to meats”. In general, they’re made with ingredients of vegetable origin.

These foods have been growing in the market at the pace of the vegan population. It’s common to find hamburgers or sausages based on legumes, cereals, and other vegetable ingredients.

In turn, these have some advantages in comparison to traditional meat products. For example, they contain less saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as fewer calories. For this reason, they’re considered healthier.

The main vegan meat substitutes that are available

Right now, it’s possible to find a wide variety of products that claim to replace meat in the vegan diet. In particular, these consist of vegetable protein such as soy, gluten, nuts, beans, among others. So, discover the options so you can incorporate them into your diet!

Beans and legumes

Legumes – such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, among others – represent the main source of vegetable protein, with values similar to those of meat.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared them a “superfood” due to their nutritional qualities and favorable growing conditions.

The flavors of this food are different and adapt to each preparation. Chickpeas and cannellini beans go well with the Mediterranean diet, while black and red beans complement Mexican recipes.

Although their protein requires supplementation to increase the nutritional value, they’re a good source of fiber and minerals, especially iron and zinc. Let’s see the nutritional table of 100 grams of raw lentils.

  • Calories: 352
  • Protein: 24.6 grams
  • Fat: 1.06 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 63.25 grams
  • Fiber: 10.7 grams
  • Iron: 6.51 milligrams-72% of the daily recommended values for men and 43% for women
  • Zinc: 3.27 milligrams

They’re very versatile in the kitchen and are great in the following recipes:

  • Stews with chopped vegetables
  • Salads
  • Stews
  • Soups
  • Hamburgers
  • Stews
  • Tacos
A variety of legumes.
In addition to being versatile, legumes have a very complete nutritional value.

Read also: 2 Ways to Make Delicious Veggie Burgers

Tempeh

According to a group of food technologists, tempeh is a food produced by fermenting soybeans through a fungus called Rhizopus. The whole bean is used, so its nutritional profile is similar to the raw material.

A publication on the benefits of tempeh concluded that it can stimulate the growth of intestinal bacteria such as bifidobacterium, with positive effects on health.

The USDA food table shows the nutritional contents of 100 grams of this meat substitute. The values of high biological quality proteins, polyunsaturated fat, and a high richness in minerals stand out.

  • Calories: 192
  • Proteins: 20.3 grams
  • Fat: 10.8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 7.64 grams
  • Iron: 2.7 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 266 milligrams
  • Potassium: 412 milligrams

You can mix tempeh with cereals such as barley to improve the quality of its amino acids. It goes very well with peanut-based sauces and dressings and also goes perfectly with french fries or Thai salad.

Tofu

Tofu or vegetarian cheese represents the classic meat substitute option. It’s a soy product with no defined flavor, but you can combine it with a variety of sauces, vegetables, and grains to intensify its flavor.

Cerdán and Rosell explain how to prepare tofu. It’s obtained by coagulating soy milk with some special calcium and magnesium salts. After coagulating the proteins, it’s pressed like traditional cheese, which makes it possible to obtain extra-firm, firm, and soft variants.

The way it’s obtained will affect the nutritional properties. In addition, some brands are fortified in calcium, iron, or magnesium, as indicated by the USDA food table.

An 85-gram serving provides the following nutrients and calories per 100 grams of tofu. The percentage of the Recommended Daily Value or DV is also specified:

  • Calories: 70
  • Protein: 9 grams -18% DV
  • Fat: 2 grams – 3 % DV
  • Carbohydrates: 3 grams – 1 % DV
  • Fiber: 1 gram – 3 % DV
  • Calcium: 100 milligrams – 10 % DV
  • Iron: 2.8 milligrams – 16 %

In the kitchen, it goes well grilled, fried, or baked, and you should press it before cooking. You can sautée it with other vegetables, or crumble it to substitute cheese or eggs.

Read also: Tofu Dishes: Two Recipes to Try at Home

Seitan

Seitan is the wheat protein better known as gluten. In vegetarian diets, it’s also called “vegetable meat”. It comes from a wheat flour dough, from which the starch is extracted by continuous washing.

Seitan has a texture similar to meat protein and is flavored with some seasonings such as soy sauce. You can purchase it in the form of strips or pieces. According to the food table, a portion of 90 grams contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 108
  • Carbohydrates: 4.8 grams
  • Protein: 20 grams
  • Fat: 1.2 grams
  • Fiber: 1.2 grams
  • Iron: 8 milligrams – 100% of the RDI for men and 44% for women

You can grill, batter, bread, fry, stew it or prepare meatballs or other recipes. It has an earthy flavor similar to mushrooms, but when seasoned, it acquires a flavor similar to chicken. Those with gluten intolerance, gluten allergy, or celiac disease should omit it from their diet.

Seitan burgers and salad on a plate.
Seitan’s a good meat substitute in vegan diets. However, it’s not an option for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an ultra-processed soy product, according to Research and Science magazine. It comes from the extrusion of a defatted soybean meal, i.e. a protein concentrate. High temperatures and pressures are applied inside industrial equipment to give it a fibrous, meat-like texture.

This textured substitute varies according to size, color, flavor, and shape. Everything will depend on the ingredients added. It’s available as a dehydrated product or in processed and frozen foods. From a nutritional point of view, 100 grams of TVP provides the following:

  • Calories: 327
  • Protein: 51.46 grams
  • Fat: 1.22 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 33.92 grams
  • Fiber: 17.5 grams
  • Iron: 9.4 milligrams-100 % of the RDI for men and 50 % for women
  • Phosphorus: 674 milligrams
  • Niacin: 2.6 milligrams

In TVP, more than half of the product is protein, the fiber content is very high, as well as the minerals iron and phosphorus. Niacin or vitamin B6 is one of the most prominent nutrients in this product.

You can find it as mince, cutlets, or meatballs, and seasonings and spices are added to improve aroma and flavor. It’s a common ingredient in vegan burgers, chops, bolognese sauce, or as a taco filling.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit has been popular in Southeast Asian cuisine since ancient times but has recently become popular in the United States as a meat substitute. It has a flavor similar to pineapple and other tropical fruits, which is why it’s known as “the fruit with the taste of all fruits”.

It’s best to use it as a substitute for pork to prepare vegan barbecues. Being a fruit, it’s high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Therefore, it wouldn’t be the best option when substituting an animal protein for a vegetable one. One cup of 150 grams of raw jackfruit contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 143
  • Carbohydrates: 35.1 grams
  • Sugars: 28.8 grams
  • Protein: 2.6 grams
  • Fat: 1.0 grams
  • Fiber: 2.2 grams
  • Iron: 1.0 milligrams – 13% of the RDI for men and 6% for women

The high content of simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, gives it its fruity flavor. It has moderate fiber content but is low in minerals.

Oat flakes

Flaked oatmeal can be used to prepare delicious cutlets. A dough is prepared with the product and combined with vegetable broth, fat, grated carrots or zucchini, and other vegetable proteins.

This food is a good source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and soluble fiber, such as beta-glucans, which are related to health benefits. It also provides iron with a value similar to that of meat. 100 grams of oat flakes, contains:

  • Calories: 375
  • Protein: 12.5 grams
  • Fat: 7.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 70 grams
  • Fiber: 7.5 grams
  • Iron: 3.6 milligrams

What should you take into account?

The Chilean Journal of Nutrition documents that some vegan meat substitutes have the same amount of protein as meats, but their quality isn’t the same, since they provide less essential amino acids. In addition, vegans may be more prone to iron deficiency.

Pawlak and other specialists report that some vitamins – such as B-12 – are minimal in vegetarian diets. For this reason, pregnant women, children, adolescents, and older vegans should take supplements.

It’s always wise to check the labels on these products, as some contain gluten, eggs, dairy, and additives that aren’t tolerated by some consumers. The options are varied and you can choose the ones that suit you best.

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