An introduction to meat replacements
The world of meat replacements can be quite daunting. While there have been many new products introduced in the past few years, not all of them are that great or easy to prepare.
This is not a definite overview, especially as we see new products entering the market every single month. Even those products that are available already continue to change and be improved. So if you try something today and you didn’t like it as much, don’t be afraid to try it again in a year’s time as the taste might have changed!
For now I’ve tried to answer three of the most important questions – the type of meat replacements available, how to prepare them, and how to choose the right replacement for the type of dish you are preparing.
What type of meat replacements exist?
Generally I would divide meat replacements into two categories: direct replacements of meat products, and products that are inspired by meat.
The first category are the type of meat replacements I use the most. It includes vegetarian chicken or burgers that you cannot tell apart from a “real” burger. In this category you also have the vegetarian shepherd’s pie, for example. You could say that these products are the most familiar to us because they try to replicate the original meat product as close as possible when it comes to texture and taste, to the point that you can barely taste a difference at all.
In the second category are products that you are likely familiar with already, and you may have even tried them, but they don’t offer a full replacement of your original meat product. This includes things like vegetable burgers or mushroom mince. They mimic the meat product in type and sometimes texture, but fall short of the ‘original’ taste. This category is how vegetarian meat replacements started, but now that our knowledge and technology has evolved, most of the new meat replacements will no longer fall into this category.
Some people would say there is still a third category. This would be where you do not try to replace meat in your dish at all, but instead use different types of ingredients such as chickpeas, tofu or lentils. While I certainly use those products, they are not a fair replacement of meat. They add protein to a meal, which is quite important in a vegetarian diet, but they are a different type of product when it comes to taste, texture and preparation. This is why More Than Broccoli does not refer to these products as meat replacement but instead introduces them as an important, separate product.
How to prepare meat replacements?
The meat replacements in the first “category” i.e. the ones that try to replicate the meat experience as closely as possible, need a slightly different way of preparing than their original meat counterpart. It will usually tell you on the packaging how to prepare it, but in the past few years I’ve noticed that if you do a little bit extra, you get a better result. Here are my tips:
- You will need to add additional seasoning. Especially more pepper, additional salt isn’t usually needed.
- Your general seasoning mixes for chicken and beef, for example, can be used on meat replacements.
- Meat replacements tend to be drier than regular meat, so I usually use a bit more oil while cooking to prevent burning them.
- Meat replacements need less time to cook, so don’t forget to change the cooking time of your recipe. You will also need to pay attention to the order in which you prepare and cook your ingredients.
What are the best meat replacements currently available?
What meat replacement you end up using will depend on your own preference and the type of dish you are cooking.
Some vegetarians do not want their meat replacement to taste as real as possible. However, in my experience it does work well for people who are trying to eat vegetarian more often. That’s because these meat replacements make it easier to create a vegetarian version of a dish that you already know, instead of having to look for new recipes (More Than Broccoli helps you to do both – adapt existing recipes, try new ones).
Then there is the question of the type of dish you are making. For example, there are different types of mince meat but not all of them are suitable if you are trying to make your own meatballs. Generally speaking it is easier to make a dish vegetarian when the original does not feature meat as its main ingredient or does not derive most of it flavour from meat. So if your dish gets all of its taste from bacon or a succulent piece of steak, that’s not easy to make vegetarian. However, do you add mince meat to your pasta sauce? Easy. Craving a burger? We got you covered.
When choosing a suitable meat replacement, especially when looking for mince meat, burgers or sausages, try to pick a product that still looks ‘raw’ and that will cook (and therefore change colour) when you prepare it. In my experience these are the best types of meat replacements, regardless of what brand they are, as it makes the difference between what a great and a “okayish” meat replacement tastes like.
So how do you make sure that your meat replacement is tasty and the right one for your type of dish? There are enough reviews online comparing different brands. However, below is my list of favourites as of the end of 2021. These are my personal preferences and I do not get any reimbursement for mentioning brands.
Hands down my go-to chicken replacement is the What The Cluck chicken from the Vegetarian Butcher. The texture is spot on and its ideal for pasta dishes and curries. They are also easy to season with your standard seasoning mixes and, unlike some other meat replacements are not too dry and won’t need much additional oil.
Replacing mince meat
I use two types of mince meat replacements, depending on the type of dish I am making. If I am making lasagna or a stir-fry, I usually opt for Vivera mince. It cooks quickly and is therefore easy to use (you literally need to only heat it in the pan because it already has the texture of fried mince meat).
The second type I use comes closer to the “real” mince meat. It is pink and changes colour when you cook it. This is the type of mince I use when making meatballs (and I have used it to make burgers too). There is different types of brands that offer this choice, but my favourites are Future Mince and the Meatless Farm Mince.
Extra: meatballs – if you don’t have time or do not feel like making your own meatballs, I could definitely recommend trying the meatballs from Future Farm or Beyond Meat. They look like raw mince meat and cook just like your original meat products.
By far the best burger at the moment is the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat. They cook just as beautifully as regular burgers and are just as juicy. I’ve prepared these burgers for my family who do not cook vegetarian and who truly love meat, and they liked them!
Replacing bacon is probably the hardest part when switching to a vegetarian diet. It’s not necessarily the structure of bacon that makes it so difficult, but it’s the unique and strong flavour. If you want to replace bacon, it’s best to choose a recipe that is not based on whole pieces of bacon, but instead uses smaller pieces.
At the moment we rely on This Isn’t Bacon when we use bacon.
As I said at the start, new meat replacements are introduced every month so don’t be afraid to try something new. Also don’t forget the tips I shared on how to prepare them. Do you already have a favourite or have you tried something in the list above? Let me know in a comment below.