There’s officially no excuse to eat meat anymore. But if you still crave the taste or texture of meat, what are the best vegan meat alternatives you can use in its place?
There’s officially no excuse to eat meat anymore. With supermarket giants such as Sainsbury’s trialling meat-alternatives within the aisles of traditional animal-based meats and restaurants such as Wagamama showcasing incredible vegan-meat dishes, it’s safe to say we’re on the cusp of a vegan ‘meat’ takeover.
We’ve come a long way since the times where tofu sausages were the only much-mocked mock-meats available on the market for vegans.
Fast-forward to the present day and we find the shelves are stacked high with chick’n style kebab ‘meat’, pulled jackfruit ‘pork’ and even a veggie steak alternative.
You can replace just about any animal-product of your choice with a completely plant-based, ethical and sustainable alternative, without compromising on taste or protein content.
But with so many ways to replace meat in meals, it can be hard for new vegans to know what are the best vegan meat alternatives. To make things simple, we’ve created this helpful guide to show you which ingredients are best used to replicate different meats and how to make them taste better than the real thing with our flavouring and cooking tips.
Best Used In: Oriental dishes, curries, sandwich fillings, grilled on a BBQ, stir-fries, made into desserts, scrambled in place of eggs and can be used in sweet recipes.
What Is It? Tofu is made by processing soya beans. The raw beans are cleaned, soaked, ground and filtered, before finally separating the curds from this lumpy soya mixture, to create what we all know as tofu.
Nutritional Benefits: Tofu is naturally rich in protein, fibre, calcium and iron. Tofu also contains selenium, manganese and phosphorus – all of which are essential minerals.
Cooking Tips: There are three main types of tofu: Extra Firm (best for high liquid content dishes), Firm (crumbled and used in drier dishes) and Silken/Soft (use in desserts or replacing eggs in quiches and frittatas). If you choose firm or extra firm, you’ll want to use a press to remove excess moisture.
Taste Tips: Tofu is pretty bland, so the key is seasoning and marinating. The best way is to marinate for at least 2 hours prior to cooking with plenty of moisture. Failing this, be sure to season well and enrobe the tofu in a sauce or use ample herbs and spices. If using in a sweet dish, sufficient sweetener must be used to mask the savoury taste.
Check out our complete guide to marinating tofu here.
Best Used In: Oriental dishes, burger substitutes, sandwiches and wraps, stir-fries, breaded nuggets and tempura battered, salads, fish replacements, taco and burrito fillings and bac’n substitutes.
Allergens: Soya, sometimes fermented with gluten allergens.
What Is It? Tempeh is similar to tofu, with the exception of being selectively fermented and formed into a condensed patty. Slightly grainier than tofu, but has a firmer texture.
Nutritional Benefits: Tempeh is higher in protein than tofu, and is relatively lower in fat too, while maintaining high levels of vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium and iron. It is also a fermented food, meaning tempeh is a great pro-biotic foodstuff.
Cooking Tips: Tempeh usually comes ready prepared and pre-marinated. You’ll also come across unflavoured frozen or refrigerated tempeh steak – a blank flavour canvas. Tempeh doesn’t need to be pressed, simply defrost and marinate for about 1 hour. Tempeh is versatile, and so the cooking methods will vary based on your recipe.
Taste Tips: Tempeh can be slightly bitter due to compounds created in fermentation. To reduce this, steam for 5 minutes, remove excess moisture with a tea towel, and you’re ready to go.
Best vegan meat alternative for meat-lovers – Seitan
Best Used In: Beef, chicken or pork substitute dishes, mimicking meat textures and tastes, higher protein meals, BBQ skewers, goujons, hot dogs, burgers and sausages.
What Is It? Seitan is made from concentrated, processed wheat gluten extracted from traditional wheat-based doughs. The majority of the starch is removed, leaving the remaining gluten strands behind, to be shaped and moulded into seitan.
Nutritional Benefits: In its natural form, this stuff is incredibly protein-rich and low in carbohydrates and fats, making it a great high-protein substitute for those with soya allergies. Due to the fact that seitan is pretty much entirely protein, you’ll find there isn’t much in the way of nutrition knocking around. Combine seitan with grains and vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Cooking Tips: The versatility of seitan means cooking can be as simple or complex as you like! You can marinade, and this should take less time (roughly 30 minutes) compared to tofu. Seitan can be cooked in various ways, but I’ve found the best way to enjoy it is baked or fried.
Taste Tips: Seitan has a sort of bready texture, but this may vary based on how the product is processed. It will taste much like anything you choose to baste, marinade and cook it with.
Find the best vegan seitan recipes
Best Used In: You can use TVP in a great variety of dishes, dependent upon the type of TVP you decide to use. TVP is a perfect substitute for mince, chicken pieces and can be formed into many different shapes to create sausages and burgers.
What Is It? TVP is a form of dried soya powder extracted from soya beans. The beans are mulched with water, treated with an alkaline agent and heat-sprayed to separate the protein from the fibre of the beans.
Nutritional Benefits: A high source of concentrated protein, with little fats and carbohydrates. I recommend eating TVP with grains and vegetables to achieve a variety of nutrients.
Cooking Tips: TVP is extremely versatile and usually sold in dehydrated form. To cook, simply rehydrate in ample amounts of boiled water and half a veggie stock cube, to enhance flavour and texture. TVP mince can be moulded into burgers, meatballs and used in a pasta sauce. TVP chunks can imitate chicken in curries, casseroles and salads.
Taste Tips: TVP is pretty savoury with no distinctive taste to it, and can’t be marinated with much success. I recommend you aren’t shy with seasoning and sauces.
Best vegan meat alternative for recreating pork – Jackfruit
Best Used In: Sloppy burgers, tacos, burritos and Mexican food, pizza toppings, wraps and sandwiches, as a pulled pork substitute and in chilli.
What Is It? A tropical fruit with a similar flavour to a pineapple. I advise buying tinned to save time and effort preparing it from fresh. Opt for tinned jackfruit in brine (not juice) when possible, as this is more savoury.
Nutritional Benefits: Jackfruit is high in fibre and relatively low in calories (95 Kcal per 100g), making it a great aid to digestive health. It’s also high in vitamins A and C.
Cooking Tips: If using tinned jackfruit, remove the flesh from the tin and rinse away the brine/juice under cold water for a few minutes, then sauté in a sauce of your choice (such as a BBQ sauce) until tender and soft. Fresh jackfruit is very sticky, and oozes a resin when cut, so coat your hands with a little oil or wear gloves. Use a knife to remove the core, and separate out the pods from the rest of the flesh – a full description can be found at shesimmers.com
Taste Tips: Jackfruit has a sweeter taste, good for sweet and sour flavours, such as BBQ or jerk seasoning. Simmer in the cooking liquid for at least 20 minutes and leave a spoonful of sauce for topping the jackfruit.
Discover 16 mouth-watering vegan jackfruit recipes here.
Best Used In: Oriental dishes, steak alternatives and if you are craving an umami, meaty flavour in a dish.
What Is It? Mushrooms are a family of fungi, but the most commonly used mushrooms to replace meat are Portobellos. This is because they have a larger surface area, and an optimum texture to recreate a meaty style dish.
Nutritional Benefits: Rich in D and B vitamins, micro-nutrients such as selenium, and high in fibre, mushrooms are full of nutrition with a low calorie and fat content.
Cooking Tips: Portobellos must be marinated with an umami-rich sauce (such as soy sauce, liquid aminos and smoky spices) to create a flavour profile, which can then be baked. Mushrooms also taste phenomenal when cooked with plenty of garlic and olive oil, or fried in balsamic vinegar. Grilled mushrooms are a sure fire winner at a BBQ too.
Taste Tips: Mushrooms are best suited to a savoury dish such as a burger ‘patty’ replacement, fillings for wraps and pittas and creating innovative steak-style dinners. Be sure to leave enough time to marinade to get the most of the flavour and texture.