Meat alternatives are getting so good, they’re even fooling foodies. Here are four plant-based meat substitutes you’re likely to encounter at the grocery store or when dining out.
Tofu (soybean curd) is made by curdling soymilk, then straining it and pressing it into blocks. Tofu prepared with calcium sulfate as a coagulant is a good source of calcium. Firmer tofu works bestas a meat substitute; it can be baked, steamed, stir-fried, or grilled without losing its shape. For a meatier texture, freeze and thaw tofu first. Tofu takes on the flavor of what it’s marinated in or seasoned with.
Tempeh is made by fermenting whole soybeans into a cake form. It has a chewy, dense texture and a tangy taste. Braising it in broth before cooking softens it and tempers the tang. Tempeh makes a good substitute for veal or chicken in many recipes.
Textured soy or vegetable protein (TSP or TVP) is made from defatted soy flour that is mixed with water into a dough and then extruded at high temperature. It comes in chunks or crumbles, dried or frozen, with or without flavoring. Try it as a substitute for ground meat in sauces, chili, burritos, or tacos. TSP/TVP, along with related soy protein isolates and concentrates, are often used in veggie burgers and sausage links.
Wheat gluten (seitan) is a non-soy meat substitute that is made by removing the starch from wheat flour. The protein-rich gluten left behind is then mixed with water to form a spongy dough that can be chewy and stringy, somewhat like meat. Also called “wheat meat,” it typically comes in a vacuum pack, often already seasoned and ready to eat. Wheat gluten can be braised, baked, stir-fried, roasted, grilled, or used in stews. You can also make your own seitan by simmering “vital wheat gluten” (75 percent protein) with broth and seasonings. Look for recipes on packages or on the Internet.
Originally published December 2014. Updated November 2019. This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.