If you grew up eating meat, your first few weeks of vegetarian meals can seem woefully incomplete. During a new vegetarian’s switch to a plant-based diet, seeing meat substitutes on a plate can really help beat back those snarling, carnivorous cravings. We’ll talk about the three main meat-substitute categories so you can mix it up while ordering in or dining out!
Soy Meat Substitutes
Versatile and naturally protein-packed, soy beans have rocketed to fame as a cheap crop with tons of tasty uses. You can find soy in various formats, including but not limited to:
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) – This dehydrated soy product comes in flakes that you can rehydrate to create “ground beef”, or in larger chunks that approximate meat. It’s often used to fill out vegetarian varieties of chili, spaghetti bolognese, and taco filling.
- Tofu – This is processed soy, pressed into blocks. It’s typically offered in three densities: silken, firm, and extra firm. When you eat at vegetarian restaurants, you’re usually enjoying extra firm, which can be prepared to be chewier, like meat.
- Tempeh – This delightfully solid soy product really offers a “bite” factor that ups the substance of dishes made with it. It does wonders for sandwiches and fancy dinner dishes alike. If you’ve got a tempeh option at a restaurant, like Little Flower Candy Company’s tempeh sandwich in Los Angeles, definitely give it a try!
Mycoprotein Meat Substitutes
Mycoprotein roughly translates to protein derived from fungi. If you don’t like mushrooms, the power of science has harnessed the best attributes of mycoprotein, making fungus-based foods more palatable and enjoyable.
- Mushrooms – These naturally healthy protein powerhouses come in many varieties and can be used in a ton of different ways. If you’ve ever enjoyed rich mushroom-based meals, like the grilled portobello sandwich from Atlas Cafe in NYC, you’ve consumed a fungal protein source that’s experienced popularity in mainstream eateries.
- Mycoprotein Products – Grown in more of a laboratory environment, mycoprotein can be made into a meat substitute such as meatless chicken. If you’re in the mood for something fancy, there are some delectable options like cranberry and goat cheese-smothered planks of chicken substitute.
- Nutritional Yeast – Nutritional yeast is the holy grail for vegetarians who want to be sure they’re getting the protein, amino acids, and B-vitamins they need without consuming meat. It’s derived from a single-celled fungus and looks like fish food but has a savory taste like cheese. Many vegan restaurants use it to make tasty macaroni and “cheese”!
Gluten Meat Substitutes
Last but not least, vital wheat gluten is used to make a meat substitute called seitan that is as chewy as real meat and therefore makes a satisfying substitute for beef. Wheat gluten is a fantastic addition to any vegetarian’s menu, so long as you don’t have a gluten sensitivity (if this is the case, you’ll still have plenty of meat substitute options from the sources above). If you’re in New York City and looking for a hearty vegetarian meal that’s wheat gluten based, be sure to try the Philly-style Seitan Sandwich from ‘sNice.
All of these meat substitutes can be found in major cities throughout the US, so you can pursue your health-conscious vegetarian journey throughout the country! Got more tips for new vegetarians? Share them in the comments below!