Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Quorn, Oumph, Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, Linda McCartney, the list of options for buying meat substitutes is incredible, and that's not including all of the supermarket own brand items. Meat replacements can be a case of swapping the meat for a plant, like using jackfruit as an alternative to pulled pork, however, meat substitutes usually involve buying a manufactured product that is made to look and taste like meat, they can even replicate the texture.
What Are Meat Substitutes?
If we're talking about the "fake meat" type of meat substitute there are a few different types. Quorn is one of the first meat substitute brands that made vegetarianism more accessible. The company was started in the 1960's during a food shortage with a mission to find a source of protein that could be used to feed the world. They found that they could grow a type of fungi (kind of like mushrooms, but mushrooms are a different fungi) that produced a type of protein that was nutritious to humans. This protein was then used to make many different textures and seasoned to create different flavours that could be used to make foods like nuggets, sausages and burgers. Most of this protein is processed with egg white and so isn't vegan, but the Quorn vegan range is expanding and products like the fishless fingers are great for fish and chip Friday.
Another way of making meat substitutes is to mix different plant proteins together and then cook them in a way that creates a texture that is similar to a particular meat. Beyond Meat use pea protein, mung bean protein and rice protein. The flavours created depend on which ingredients they have added to the mix before it is processed and can be altered to create chicken, pork or beef-like products.
Many meat replacements are made from soy, this can be soy pulp or textured soy. Soy protein is a complete protein, it contains all of the essential amino acids that we need, even soy flour is 50% protein. There are many companies that use soy protein to create meat-like textures and the products can be cooked in the same way as meat. You can use the same seasonings and cooking methods, frying, baking, roasting, barbecuing, whatever you want, and create a meal that is so close to meat that, if you want that kind of thing, you'll be well satisfied. Both Iceland, the supermarket and the company Oomph use soy protein in this way.
What Are The Options?
If you are trying to replace the taste an texture of meat and you're not too worried about nutrients or the cost a manufactured meat replacements can be perfect. The two things that I love the most about these products is that they cook very quickly and it is really hard to get food poisoning from them, unlike meat where it's too easy. They are often frozen which means that you can stock up when they are on special offer as they last a really long time in the freezer.
The options these day are incredible, from the basics like a meat free mince to more fun foods like nuggets and popcorn chicken there's something for everyone. Some of the products, like vegan sausages, are quite cheap and really versatile, others, like vegan hotdogs, aren't so good. They can cost a lot more and are heavily processed, but having some every now and again won't harm. Vegan ham and chicken slices are perfect for a packed lunch or picnic and are used in exactly the same way as the meat version. Meat substitutes can be found, mainly, in the chilled and frozen sections of the supermarket but health food shops will often have a different selection such as roasts and other items.
What About Lab Grown Meat?
Lab grown, or cultured meat is made by taking a some cells from the animal that you want meat from and growing them in a lab to form a piece of muscle which is then taken and treated as meat to create food. There are some benefits to doing this instead of farming animals but it is still meat. There are still the health problems of eating meat and it still involves exploiting animals by taking parts of them to grow in a lab. It is better for the environment, there is far less land and water use and less pollution is created, but will people want to eat laboratory meat? At this stage no one knows how popular this meat will be as it's not available in the shops yet and is extremely expensive to produce.
Manufactured meat replacements, the vegan sausages, the vegan burgers, etc., aren't necessary for good health. They are often higher in fat and salt than more natural foods, like tofu or tempeh, but they can make great meals and also make it easier for non vegans that are eating with vegans. They can make vegan food less weird for meat eaters; why they think that vegan food is weird is beyond me, but anyway, that's another conversation. Meat substitutes can also be quite expensive, the price is comparable to meat, but not to foods like mushrooms and lentils. Personally, I think that eating meat replacements every now and again is fine, but whether or not you choose to eat them is up to you, they are certainly healthier than meat and they are really convenient. For dinner, packed lunch or a picnic they can make a tasty and easy addition to a meal and they normalise veganism, bringing it to the masses, which is can only be a good thing.
What about you, do you use meat replacements, meat substitutes, mock meats or fake meats? How do you use them and what is your opinion? Let me know in the comments.