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Vegetarian Meat Substitutes: Which Types Are Best?

Updated on April 08, 2013
Can you believe this sandwich is meatless? This is a Gardein "chicken" sandwich at my favorite restaurant, the Yard House.
Can you believe this sandwich is meatless? This is a Gardein "chicken" sandwich at my favorite restaurant, the Yard House. | Source

Vegetarian meat and poultry substitutes are not just for vegetarians. They provide a healthful alternative to high-fat, cholesterol-laden meat and poultry products, and they come in many different flavors and textures to appeal to all tastes.

Read on to find out what these creative products are made from and which ones you should try first.

What Is Vegetarian Meat Made Of?

There are several types of veggie meat products. The most common main ingredients are:

  • soy protein or soybeans (used in tofu and tempeh)
  • textured wheat protein or wheat gluten (also called seitan)
  • wheat and/or corn flour
  • other grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and millet
  • mycoprotein (an edible fungus, used exclusively in Quorn)

While many vegetarian meat products are also vegan, they aren't all. Some include milk or eggs in their ingredient lists. Vegan products usually have a certified vegan mark on their packaging.

Some veggie meat brands include products that are certified kosher (e.g., Morningstar Farms, Lightlife, Gardenburger). Check for a hechsher (kosher mark) to see a product's kashrut status and whether it is pareve or dairy.

A few vegetarian meat product lines contain at least one gluten-free option, but most of the meat substitutes do use wheat flour and wheat gluten. Some gluten-free options include Quorn Tenders, and Lightlife's Tofu Pups and Tempeh products. Other companies, such as Gardein, are researching gluten-free options for the future.

An assortment of meatless basics we keep stocked in our freeer
An assortment of meatless basics we keep stocked in our freeer | Source

The Best Veggie Meat Products

My family has been eating vegetarian meat products for more than twenty years despite the fact that we also enjoy meat tremendously. And while we enjoy a good tofu stir-fry as much as anybody, we generally prefer products that are convincing imitations of real meat. Here is a list of our favorites and why we think you'll like them, too.

  1. Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips: We keep kosher, so in order to keep up with the bacony zeitgeist, I started to buy these. Non-Jewish friends have assured me that the smell and taste captures true bacon flavor, and the texture is good, too (the strips become crisp in the microwave).
  2. Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick'n: These irregularly shaped pieces brown nicely in a hot pan with a little oil, and they come with a sauce packet for flavor -- yum! Serve with white rice and a frozen Asian vegetable mix for a quick and easy dinner.
  3. Morningstar Farms Chik Nuggets (and Patties): My children's favorite dinner, bar none, is these imitation chicken nuggets served with pasta and a sprinkling of cheese. They cook up quickly in the microwave, it's easy to stick to the correct portion size, and they're even good to take along in a lunchbox with a ketchup packet. For grownups, the same flavor and texture is available in a patty, if you prefer. My husband likes the spicy version, the Veggie Buffalo Wings.
  4. Lightlife Smart Deli Pepperoni Style: Being vegetarian means never eating a pepperoni pizza . . . or does it? These rounds, which we call "veggie-roni," are full of spicy flavor and cook up nicely on homemade pizza. You can also serve them as appetizers on crackers.
  5. Veggie Crumbles (all brands): You can't go wrong with veggie crumbles. They can transform many heavy ground beef dishes into much lighter, more healthful vegetarian dishes. We love them in chili and with lentils, especially.

Try some vegetarian meatless products today, and tell me in the comments below which become your family's favorites!

Vegetarian chili made with veggie crumble
Vegetarian chili made with veggie crumble | Source

Types of Vegetarian Meat Products

The following is a chart listing common types of imitation meat products and which major national brands offer them. Not all items are available in all locations, but the brand websites have product locators which can help you find what you're looking for.

 
BOCA
Gardein
Lightlife
Morningstar Farms
Quorn
Asian-style products
 
bacon
 
 
 
barbecue ribs
 
 
 
bean burgers
 
 
 
beef chunks or strips
 
 
 
breakfast sausage
 
chicken cutlets
 
 
chicken nuggets or tenders
 
chicken patties
 
chicken strips
 
chicken wings
 
 
chili
 
 
 
coldcuts
 
 
 
 
crumbles (like ground beef)
 
dinner sausage
 
 
 
 
grilling burgers
hot dogs
 
 
 
Italian-style products
meatballs
 
 
Mexican-style products
 
mushroom burgers
 
 
turkey burgers or patties
 
 
veggie patties
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Which meatless product do you like best?

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    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Nice overview of the various options! I have recently discovered seitan and absolutely love it. I think as far as an actual substitute for the chewiness and texture of meat, it surpasses all the rest. It's also really easy to make. Obviously, not a good option for anyone with a gluten allergy though. I also really like the Morningstar products, though they do have a lot of sodium (but I'm ok with that!)

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks, twoseven. It is true that you should be careful with your sodium if you're eating the brand-name products, but that's true for any processed food. And at least you don't need to add any more salt to these products, as you might if you were cooking meat or poultry.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love meatless meat! It's so easy to cook and has really come a long way since. The flavors are good and so are the various consistencies. I'm going to have to find that veggie-roni.

      Voted up and useful!

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the votes, clevercat! The vegetarian pepperoni is usually in the refrigerated area of the produce section, at least in my supermarket. And if your regular market doesn't carry it, try Whole Foods.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      We use a lot of veggie crumbles for spaghetti sauces, tacos and the like. Often I take a veggie crumble dish to a dinner and people love it. Recently I used a vegan Italian sausage in pasta and no one even knew! Thanks for keeping me inspired to eat healthy. I was a vegetarian that ate cheese and butter but now am strict vegan.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thanks for reading, Hyphenbird. I'd love to know what brand vegan Italian sausage you use; I love the Morningstar Farms Italian sausage, but my supermarket recently stopped carrying it, so I'm looking for a replacement.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Ishould have mentioned that. It is the Tofurky brand. They make a great kielbasa also. My local market keeps it in the refrigerated area in the with vegan cheeses and that sort of thing. I am going to make chili with vegan kielbasa tomorrow. Yum.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Oh, that does sound nice, Hyphenbird! I confess I've never tried any of the Tofurky products, since my husband had a bad run-in with an actual Tofurky at a vegetarian friend's house for Thanksgiving many years ago. (I'm sure they've improved since then!)

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