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Best Meat Alternatives & Vegan Meat Substitutes | Popular Science

Eating a diet higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in meat is not just healthier for your body, but can also be healthier for the planet. So, whether you are trying out Meatless Mondays, replacing several meals a week, or prepping to make a total shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet, the best meat alternatives will help ease the transition. In many cases you can follow the same recipes you enjoy, just swap out the beef, pork, or chicken for better-than-you-would-think fake meat. The best meat alternatives will make eating plant-based easy, allowing you to replicate typically meat-reliant comfort foods quickly and easily. Here is a list of our favorite meat substitutes for you to chew on.  

Tasty meat alternatives: The meat of the matter

The best meat alternatives use advances in nutritional science to offer great taste and texture that takes familiar forms. While different brands use a variety of ingredients, common ways to make fake meat are with wheat protein, soy protein, wheat gluten, pea proteins, grains, potato starch, and beans reformed to resemble and taste “similar” to meat. You can buy a bag of texturized vegetable protein chunks, which are meant to be used in recipes in place of diced chicken breast. Very popular fake meat items include chicken tenders, chicken nuggets, chicken patties, as well as vegan taco meats, burgers, and breakfast meats. When done right, these are delicious alternatives that make sure you don’t miss the meat.

When you decide to go meatless, however, you will run across two types of non-meat proteins: vegan or vegetarian. Vegans omit all animal products, including eggs and dairy (as well as enzymes and additives from animal sources, think gelatin or insect-derived dyes, for example). Vegetarians, on the other hand, typically only omit the meat (though based on personal preference they may adopt stricter, but not quite vegan, rules). Keep this in mind when looking at non-meat proteins, because vegetarian meats may still contain ingredients unsuited for vegans. Whether you are trying to improve your cholesterol and general well-being by eating a plant-based diet or you are trying to help reduce the reliance on factory farms and that industry’s stress on the planet, there are plenty of reasons these days to skip meat.

Related: Sweet tooth? Check out these vegan candies

Some nuggets of wisdom on plant-based chicken

Americans like chicken. Lots of chicken. A favorite of children and adults alike, breaded chicken nuggets, tenders, and patties are a satisfying food for even the most finicky eater. Luckily, the pleasingly chewy texture of that ground-up, blended, seasoned, and breaded chunk of comfort is not hard to replicate with meat alternatives. You’ll find a huge variety of brands to choose from, with both vegan and vegetarian options. These have become so popular because they are tasty and a way to feel a bit better about what you’re eating. 

Best breaded chicken meat alternatives: Simulate Chicken Nuggs

A Slam Dunk (In Sauce)

Plant-based with no animal by-products, these vegan nuggets go for taste and texture. Amazon

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The Simulate company has created a vegan chicken nugget and vegan chicken patty using wheat and soy proteins. Similar to a software company, Simulate is always listening to feedback and tweaking its product to perfect the yummy, chewy chicken goodness.

Why every night will be Taco Tuesday 

Taco night is a crowd-pleaser. Ground beef sauteed and loaded into warm tortillas with heaps of flavorful toppings … we’re getting hungry just writing this. So much of what goes into creating a great taco is the combination of spices and hot-cold soft-crunchy sensations that one could argue that the meat is not the star, but it’s undoubtedly important to create the overall balance.

The best vegan taco meat replicates the flavor and texture of beef, and because you will be simmering it in your favorite spices or sauce, it is an easy substitution. Similar to other plant-based meat alternatives, most vegan taco meat is made using a blend of ingredients with texturized soy protein. Unlike beef, however, many of these beefless crumbles are already seasoned and salted, so you may need to adjust your recipe to accommodate for this.

While the texture won’t allow you to ball up and turn this into meatballs or meatloaf like some ground beef alternatives, these crumbles can also easily be added to your Sloppy Joe, lasagna, or bolognese sauces. 

Best vegan taco meat alternatives: Gardein Beefless Ground Crumbles

Your Convictions Won’t Crumble

These are gluten-free, vegan, and easy-to-make beefless crumbles. Amazon

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A seasoned bag of frozen crumbles ready to add to all your favorite ground beef recipes, this plant-based protein offers 18 grams of protein per serving, with no dairy or gluten. Tailor your seasoning and salt, however, as these are already seasoned.

Meatless meat so “real” it’s like magic, but it’s just science

One of the things standing in the way of people (especially burger lovers) cutting down on meat has been the lack of a satisfying alternative to ground beef-based foods. Veggie burgers had a bad rep for a long time for being dry or crumbly, and never quite the right texture to feel like more than a chunky disc. But advances have been made, so much so that the Impossible and Beyond Meat brands—which recreate the feel and taste of actual beef burgers—have been adopted by major restaurants and even fast-food chains. With an eye for the details down to the “blood” and an iron-rich flavor, they offer the best way yet for fans to make the transition to fake meat without feeling like they are missing out on the joy of a juicy burger.

Best meatless meat burger: Beyond Burger

A Meaty Beef Alternative

A real alternative for a satisfying burger, loaded with 20 grams of plant protein. Amazon

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This is a real burger experience, so you can feel good about eating a plant-based diet that is better for the Earth. Just don’t overdo it, as the sodium content is high.

So good you’ll want to pig out, minus the pig

What’s a big American-style breakfast without some bacon or sausages? These rich, fatty, salty indulgences are hardly healthy, but sure do taste good with eggs, pancakes, or just by themselves. Non-meat protein options offer a great tasting solution, as manufacturers have mastered the seasoning so well you’ll hardly notice or miss the real thing. 

Unlike vegan meats, vegetarian meat will include some animal products. For example, vegetarian bacon uses egg whites to texture and protein. Other vegetarian meats might also use milk. With some animal products, vegetarian meats won’t always be cholesterol-free, but they will have a lot less than real bacon and real sausages. Having a reduced fat and cholesterol content is a health advantage, however often these products are highly processed and can contain a lot of sodium. It’s important to eat these non-meat proteins sparingly, as they are healthier but far from health food. 

Best vegetarian meat alternatives: MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips

Crispy And Quick

Thin, crispy vegetarian bacon offers a savory breakfast side. Amazon

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Packed with flavor, this faux bacon uses egg whites, wheat gluten, and vegetable protein to provide a tasty alternative for your vegetarian breakfast, breakfast for dinner, brunch, midnight snack, even afternoon tea, and elevenses … you get it. This brand is very popular and widely available, but note they do use food coloring and artificial flavors.

Here’s a fruitful idea for vegan meat substitutes

One additional step beyond “meatless meat,” there is a fruit called jackfruit long popular in Southeast Asia that has been gaining popularity as more people switch to plant-based diets. It is now possible to buy fresh jackfruit in many domestic supermarkets, and there are a wide variety of preseasoned jackfruit foods and canned jackfruit available for purchase as well. Jackfruit can be made into burgers or thrown into recipes where you’d add chicken strips, though it is best known as one of the vegan meat substitutes with a texture perfect for a well-sauced pulled pork sandwich. Filled with nutrition, jackfruit is a great source of fiber, plus it offers magnesium, vitamin B6, and antioxidants. Unlike many vegan types of meat, jackfruit products are minimally processed and the fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. However, because jackfruit is, well, a fruit it is low in protein, so nutrition experts suggest mixing jackfruit with beans or nuts to create a balanced meal. 

Best vegan meat substitutes: Nature’s Greatest Foods Organic Jackfruit

Where There’s Smoke, Taste Is Fire

Among delicious no-guilt vegan meat substitutes, smoky jackfruit is the perfectly seasoned addition to your favorite BBQ sandwich. Amazon

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One of the quick and easy vegan meat substitutes, just heat and serve. Jackfruit is cooked and seasoned to replace the meat in your favorite pulled pork recipes and it’s also great in a wrap or salad. Just remember to add other plant proteins for a complete meal.

Best meat alternatives FAQ: people also ask

What is the healthiest meat substitute?

The healthiest meat substitute will be vegetarian foods that are natural, high in protein, and minimally processed. Great, healthy meat substitutes include beans, tempeh, lentils, jackfruit, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds. An average 150-pound adult might require 54 grams of protein a day, which is easily attainable with meat substitutes. In addition to meat substitutes, there are a large variety of meat alternatives available that are quick and easy to use in meals instead of meats. However, meat alternatives can be more processed and have excess sodium levels. It’s best to read labels and eat minimally processed options with the most frequency. 

What is the best alternative to beef?

If you are looking for a similar taste and texture, the best alternative to beef is plant-based meat made by popular brands Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger. Compared to many grain- or bean-based burgers, these products are much closer to real beef in terms of the look, taste, and texture. These beef alternatives are made with soy or pea proteins, and compare with real beef in terms of amounts of protein and calories, but with less saturated fat and no cholesterol, as well as fiber that is missing in real beef. However, it’s important to note that these products do contain more sodium than beef. Similar to beef, beef alternatives are tasty treats in moderation, offering a meat-like experience without the meat. 

What is the best tasting meat substitute?

Meat substitutes include healthy natural minimal processed options, as well as more processed meat alternatives. Beans, nuts, and lentils are very tasty and healthy options that can be used in a variety of meals and lend themselves to soups, stews, and other delicious seasoned dishes. In terms of meat substitutes, popular tasty options can be found from Morningstar Farms, Quorn, Gardein, Tofurky, Beyond Meat, and Impossible. These popular brands offer alternatives to sausage, burgers, chicken patties, ground meat, and more. The best tasting meat substitute will come down to personal preference and finding the one that excites your taste buds can be a lot of fun. 

Related: Low on the food chain, high on protein. Here are the best seeds, beans, and more.

The final word on the best meat alternatives

The best meat alternatives will taste great, and be easy to add to all your favorite recipes. Meatless meats can be vegan or vegetarian and use a variety of ingredients to offer a protein-packed alternative to meat. Created to imitate the flavor, look, and texture of your favorite meats, the delicious meat alternatives available on the market are increasing every day.



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