But making sure you get all the flavor and protein “bang for your buck” can be a challenge. Last year I was served a “seitan turkey” in the shape of a bird for Thanksgiving dinner. It was delicious, and the meat substitute made a very credible poultry!
More recently I’ve whipped up a great tempeh “steak” with fried potatoes (no complaints from the carnivores at the table!), but a subsequent tofu stir-fry, with a bottled teriyaki sauce, ended up mushy and too sweet.
If you’re experimenting with going vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian, this guide to meat substitutes can help you make smart choices.
Tofu is the mild, soft, white curd make from the soybean. Subtle in flavor and very versatile, it can be stir-fried, deep-fried, pureed, cubed and tossed into soups or stews, or even whipped into mousse. Best of all, it packs a whopping 10 grams of protein per half cup, for fewer than 100 calories. Tip: If you are new to tofu, try the “firm” kind (it’s easier to slice than the silken variety).
Tempeh will never win any beauty contests. The traditional soy product, made of cultured and fermented soybeans, looks like a little bit like rocks bound together with white fungus. Don’t look, eat! Tempeh is revelation, packed with protein (15 grams per half cup), meaty and mild, versatile and highly digestible. Use it anywhere you would tofu; it holds up especially well between two slices of bread or stir-fried.
This meat alternative, more popular in Asian countries than in the United States, looks a lot like duck meat and tastes, well, like chicken. Also called wheat gluten, seitan is made of powdered whole wheat flour mixed with water, pulled and processed, and well-seasoned with salt and other savory flavors. It has less protein than the other meat substitutes on this list, but you can sneak it into any recipe that calls for poultry.
Try this recipe:
Sweet and Sour Seitan
Quick…what bean has the most protein? Soybeans of course, with nearly 20 grams per cup. And edamame are nothing more than fresh soybeans (you knew that right?). Tip: Buy em frozen and shelled, then toss them into any soup or salad.
Beans are amazingly high in fiber and protein, and they’re meaty and delicious enough to sub for steak and chicken in most meals. The highest protein beans are fava and kidney, but any bean you crave will be a healthy meat-free choice.
Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)
That crumbly quality you get in your veggie burger? Probably comes from TVP, a product made from soy flour. It packs the same amount of protein as tofu, but some find it a little easier to digest.
Quorn is a controversial meat substitute widely available in the United Kindom that takes the shape of chicken patties or nuggets. It tastes pretty good, but is made from a fungus in fermentation tanks and has been linked to allergic reactions. If you try it, let us know what you think!