Cutting down on the amount of meat you eat? Lack of protein won’t be your problem, since new and tasty meat substitutes are now cropping up all over the world. Give them a try and you’ll discover a new world of surprisingly delicious and healthy flavors.
Textured vegetable protein
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is simply defatted soy flour, and you’ve probably tasted it before, either at a fast food restaurant or in a canned pasta meal. It comes as dried chunks or flakes, which need to be rehydrated with water or broth before they can be used in a recipe. Its sponge-like texture makes it excellent for absorbing flavors. Lightweight, with a shelf life of over one year in its dry form, TVP’s versatility and high protein content have made it a popular choice not only for backpackers but also for prison cafeterias.
Best uses: TVP is a great meat substitute as it can take on the texture of whatever it is substituting. For this reason, it is a perfect alternative to ground beef in recipes for chilli, sloppy joes, tacos, and burgers.
Nutritional value: A 4-oz. serving provides the same amount of protein found in an 8-oz steak. It is also naturally low in fat and an excellent source of iron, isoflavones and fiber.
Tofu is to soy milk what cheese is to milk, as the processes involved in making them are very similar. Tofu is a true culinary marvel. Delicate and versatile, it is available in three different varieties: regular, soft and firm. For a meat-like texture, go with fresh, extra-firm or firm varieties. If you find it too bland, try marinating it before cooking, or cook it with other ingredients, as it will take on some of their flavor. Tofu is also available ready-flavored, smoked, spiced, or marinated.
Best uses: Soft, or silken, tofu can be used to make salad dressing, dips and pâtés, pie fillings, smoothies, and more. Crumbled and fried with herbs and vegetables, soft tofu makes a good vegetarian stand-in for scrambled eggs. Firm cubes of tofu, sautéed, can be a great addition to a stir-fry.
Nutritional value: A half-cup serving provides nearly 20% of your daily protein, has less than 100 calories, more calcium than a cup of milk, and is a good source of iron.
Tempeh is a cultured soybean cake. This meat substitute, which originated in Indonesia, has a complex flavor that is often described as nutty and even meaty. It has a tender, chewy consistency and is usually sold in the refrigerated or frozen food case of your natural supermarket.
Best uses: This meat substitute can be grilled, deep-fried, sautéed, steamed, baked, grated, or microwaved, and holds its shape very well.
Nutritional value: Since tempeh is made from whole soybeans, it is a fiber-rich food. A good source of protein, this meat substitute is also a generous source of many nutrients such as calcium, B-vitamins and iron.
Meat substitutes are not always soy-based: Seitan, for instance, is also known as “wheat gluten,” and is made from the same dough used to prepare pasta. It is believed to have come from ancient China, where it was a staple in the diet of vegetarian Buddhist monks. You’ll find it either in slices, or as one piece, usually vacuum-packed or in jars. It probably tastes more like meat than any other vegetarian alternatives.
Best uses: Since it’s very similar to a beef steak, you can cook it in the same way you would cook meat. It is delicious with sliced onions and rosemary, lightly fried in olive oil. You can also use it as an ingredient in soups and stews.
Nutritional value: Seitan contains the same amount of protein you’ll find in beef, with one third of the calories. However, it is also very high in sodium.
Available both as an ingredient and in a range of ready-made Quorn products, this meat substitute is made from a mycoprotein derived from the mushroom family. It’s grown in giant tanks using a natural fermentation process, and is then combined with a small amount of egg white and vegetable flavors to help give it the taste and texture of meat. Note that, because it contains egg white, Quorn is not suitable for vegans.
Best uses: Quorn readily absorbs flavors in cooking, so it works well in stir-fries, curries, casseroles and marinades. It is a perfect substitute for minced beef: try it in a Bolognese sauce or as a condiment for noodles.
Nutritional value: Quorn is low in fat and salt and high in fiber. It contains only half the amount of protein found in seitan or beef, but it is very light and easy to digest.
A healthy, nutritious vegetarian diet is now easier to maintain than ever before, but don’t forget that meat substitutes alone will not be a sufficient source for all the protein you need: include fresh fruit, veggies, cereals, nuts and seeds in your meals, and if you’re planning to become completely vegetarian, consult your family doctor and explore the possibility of using supplements to complete your diet.