What are Meat alternatives?
A meat alternative, substitute or analogue is a food that may have a similar taste, texture, or appearance to that of meat but does not contain meat. People may eat meat substitutes for several reasons, a new diet such as going veggie or vegan or one for health concerns there’s something for everyone. Whatever the reason for choosing a meat substitute may be, it is vital to know which ones can provide the essential nutrients a person needs.
Most meat-like substances are made from vegan or vegetarian ingredients. Other common terms for meat alternatives are plant-based meat, vegan meat, mock meat, meat alternative, imitation meat, or vegetarian meat.
The Different Meat Alternatives
The most popular forms of plant-based meat are Tofu, Seitan, Tempeh and TVP.
Tofu is a form of curdled soy milk, also known as bean curd. It is a food prepared by coagulating soy milk, then pressing all the resulting soy curds into solid blocks. These blocks vary in softness from extra soft, silken, soft, and firm to super firm or extra firm. Further to these specifications on texture, there are many more varieties of tofu.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food prepared by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness; it can be silken, soft, firm, extra firm or super firm. Beyond these broad textural categories, there are many varieties of tofu amongst them seasoned and smoked.
Legend has it that the recipe for tofu was actually discovered by accident. It's rumoured that a Chinese cook discovered tofu more than 2,000 years ago when they accidentally mixed a batch of fresh soy milk with nigari. Nigari contains magnesium chloride as the main component is a salt solution that is formed when seawater is evaporated. It is a mineral-rich coagulant used to help tofu keep its form and solidify.
Tofu is held highly due to its high protein profile and complete amino acid profile whilst still providing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals along with carbs and fats. Tofu's nutritional profile includes manganese, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Another positive aspect of tofu is it contains a natural plant compound called isoflavones. These function as phytoestrogens, by getting attached to and activating estrogen receptors in your body.
Seitan pronounced ‘SAY-tan’ also known as wheat meat is regarded as a different type of plant-based meat. This is because, unlike tofu, seitan is not made out of soy but vital wheat gluten. I know what you’re thinking, wheat? Is this some type of bread? No. Although seitan is made from wheat it has very little to do with bread or flour. Surprisingly seitan acquires a very similar colour and texture to meat when cooked.
Seitan is produced by combining and kneading wheat flour with water. This develops a sticky mixture that creates sticky strands of gluten protein. The dough strands are then rinsed to wash away all of the wheat starch leaving behind the high-protein gluten. This sticky gluten mass can be seasoned, cooked and used as a base ingredient in vegan or vegetarian dishes as a meat substitute. If you don’t want to incur the labour of making seitan from scratch, seitan can be purchased pre-made from the refrigerated/frozen sections of most supermarkets.
Although it is mainly made out of gluten, seitan is still nutritious, high in protein yet low in fat and carbs. Seitan’s nutritional profile includes selenium, iron, copper, phosphorus and calcium. Please note that store-bought seitan’s nutritional profiles may vary to that of its homemade variations as these products may contain additional ingredients, including high sodium levels. While seitan’s nutritional profile deems it high in protein, it does not contain enough of the essential amino acid lysine to meet your body’s needs. As seitan is low in lysine, it is considered an incomplete protein. This can be resolved however by supplementing your vegan or vegetarian diet with sufficient beans, a lysine-rich food.
One of seitan greatest advantages is its naturally neutral flavour. This makes seitan especially versatile for taking on the flavour of different sauces, seasonings and being easily blended into any recipe. Seitan can be cut up into strips and used as fajitas, cooked in broth, grilled on skewers, breaded and deep-fried, chopped and used in stir-fries, used as burger ‘meat’ and as a chicken or ground beef substitute.
Another great aspect about seitan is it’s a viable option for the soy averse or allergic. Please note that all who experience gluten intolerances or have the coeliac disease should stay well away from seitan as its main ingredients are purely water and gluten and would bring about violent allergic reactions.
Another meat substitute gaining more and more popularity recently is tempeh. Like tofu, tempeh is also made out of soybeans; however, where tofu is made from soy curds, tempeh is made from the whole soybean. This makes tempeh blocks less refined and purer than tofu although flavourings and whole grains are often added as well. It is worth noting that soy-free versions of tempeh also exist.
To make tempeh, soybeans are often cooked and fermented to then be packed into a brick-like cake shape. The fermentation process helps break down the phytic acid content in soybeans making it easier for the body to break down its starches and digest. This process comes about when, okay don’t freak out, a certain type of mold known as Rhizopus oligosporus is added to the bean mix. Much like other fermented foods out there the mold used in tempeh is beneficial to our health and what arguably makes it so tasty.
Tempeh can be added into all kinds of dishes, sub tofu for tempeh in a stir fry. Chop, crumble and grate it into stews or meatless chilli as a ground beef substitute. Bake it into casseroles, pan fry it, steam it, skewer and grill. Whatever your choice in terms of cooking maybe it is sure to be sufficiently delicious however, be sure to always cook your tempeh (unless your packaging states your tempeh has been pre-cooked).
As it is a fermented food and has been sitting around in warm temperatures whilst culturing the Rhizopus oligosporus, there might be other things that might have grown as well. Just to be on the safe side, make sure your tempeh is cooked throughout!
Tempeh, much like seitan, is quite versatile when being added to recipes. Tempehs flavour is mildly savoury with nutty and earthy hints that are usually compared to the likes of mushrooms. It has a distinct tang to it, some would go so far as to say that tempeh is the sourdough of plant-based proteins. Tempeh is able to absorb the flavours of any food or sauce it's added to. From stir-fries, soups, and stews to chilis tacos and sandwiches, you can even make tempeh taste like bacon or sausage! Apart from being incredibly versatile food to be used in cooking it also has a very promising nutritional profile.
The most impressive part about the tempehs nutrient profile is its high protein content with minerals and vitamins whilst being low in sodium and carbs. It includes iron, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and prebiotics (prebiotics are a type of fibre that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut). Finally, tempeh is also abundant in antioxidative properties which may help reduce oxidative stress!
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
Our final meat alternative product is known as textured vegetable protein or TVP. TVP was invented in the 1960s by the multinational american company Archer Daniels Midland who still hold the trademark name for the product today. Textured vegetable protein is a meat substitute made from soy flour but is also known to be made out of wheat, oats and cotton seeds.
The soy version of TVP is made with dehulled and ground-up soybeans that have had their oil content extracted. This process makes TVP both fat and cholesterol-free. It is available in different sizes ranging from mince to pieces to chunks, it even has flavoured and unflavoured varieties. It is a widely available and popular meat alternative for both vegans and vegetarians alike, further its celebrity has a lot to do with TVP being cheap. Perfect for cooking on a budget.
AS it is a dehydrated product TVP must be reconstituted in broth or hot water for about 10 minutes (depending on the amount) for it to become appetizing. TVP has a very similar texture to ground beef once cooked making it the perfect plant-based alternative for chilis, stews, casseroles and bakes. Much like tofu, tempeh and seitan, TVP on its own essentially has no taste but can readily absorb flavourings from any sauces and spices it is added to. Making it perfect for ‘meaty pasta sauces, taco fillings, veggie lasagnas and shepherd’s pies, burgers, ‘meatballs the list goes on.
Similarly to its other metal-alternative relatives, TVP is popularly made out of soy making it a reliable source for a complete amino acid profile. Its nutritional profile also includes several minerals and vitamins such as; calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc. It also contains a notable amount of iron delivering about 15% of the recommended daily value along with good amounts of fibre, no fats and a low carb count. It is important to note that TVP can be a highly processed food item, as such always ensure to check the labelling for more accurate information on nutrition content as well as sodium and fat levels.
There you have it four different choices of plant-based meat alternatives for your perusal, go on give one of them a try, we dare you!