Your Guide to Plant-Based Meats and Meat Substitutes

Curious about plant-based meat substitutes like tempeh and Impossible burgers? We break down everything you need to know.

Whether you’re a full-time vegetarian looking to expand your cooking repertoire or a carnivore considering meatless Mondays, this guide to plant-based meats is full of delicious ideas. We break down everything you need to know about tofu, Impossible burgers, jackfruit and more.

By the way, these are the biggest plant-based food trends of 2021.

What Is Plant-Based Meat?

At its simplest definition, plant-based meat is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a meat alternative derived from beans, fruits, vegetables or other plants. Some plant-based meats aim to replicate animal products in taste and texture, while others exist as their own vegetarian entity.

Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?

Generally speaking, yes. Plant-based meats are often lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than their traditional counterparts. Many substitutes are also rich in protein, fiber and other nutrients. Plant-based meats are healthier for the environment, too. Common veggie crops like peas, soy and wheat have a smaller footprint than beef or fish. (For more benefits, read up on the reasons to try a plant-based diet).

However, some plant-based meats can be highly processed with long ingredient lists. They also often lack nutrients like Omega-3s and vitamin B12. If you’re not sure how meat substitutes fit into your lifestyle, we suggest chatting with your doctor or a nutritionist. You can also learn more about the best plant-based protein sources.

Plant-Based Meat Substitutes

Looking for the best meat substitutes? Give these popular items a try.

Tofu

What is tofu? Just one of the oldest and most easily recognized meat substitutes! This soy-based ingredient is available in several textures—ranging from silken to super firm—and has a bland flavor that’s receptive to sauces, spices and marinades. Plus, learning how to cook tofu is easy. This staple can be prepared in a skillet, oven, air fryer and more. Give it a try with any of our best tofu recipes.

Try It! Enjoy a classic stir-fry with this fried tofu recipe. Or, for a healthier option, dig into this air-fryer tofu recipe.

Tempeh

The answer to “what is tempeh?” is pretty interesting: Tempeh is made of whole soybeans fermented into a firm, nutty loaf. And while this plant-based staple isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it’s a valuable ingredient rich in protein and fiber. Tempeh is enjoyed several different ways—steamed, grilled or baked, just to name a few—and is a common ingredient in hearty vegetarian sandwiches or stir-fries. Learn more about how to cook tempeh.

Seitan

We don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. But knowing the answer to “what is seitan?” will help round out your meat-free meal plan. Seitan is a plant-based ingredient made from vital wheat gluten, water and spices. When cooked, it takes on a juicy, poultry-like texture. It’s delicious cooked on its own (and paired with our favorite vegetarian side dishes!) or incorporated into other recipes.

Jackfruit

There’s a good chance you’ve seen it on a trendy restaurant menu and wondered, “what is jackfruit?”. When underripe, this tropical fruit has a texture most similar to pulled pork, but it can also be used to replicate pot roast, sandwich meat or chicken. Check out our best savory jackfruit recipes for inspiration.

Store-Bought Meat Substitutes

No matter what you’re craving, there’s a store-bought meat alternative that will hit the spot. Plant-based meat brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Gardein and Morningstar—plus some niche, smaller brands, too—have made vegetarian eating more accessible. (Some have even found their way into fast food restaurants). These products are typically made from soy or pea protein, and they taste very similar to real meat in flavor and texture. Some of them even “bleed,” thanks to beet juice or heme.

Try It! Use store-bought meat substitutes in the same way you’d use ground beef, chicken tenders or other ingredients. We’re particularly smitten with plant-based burgers.

Tips for Cooking with Plant-Based Meats

  • Add plenty of seasonings. If you’re working with a basic plant-based ingredient, like tofu or tempeh, don’t shy away from seasonings. These items don’t have much flavor on their own, so if you’re going for a “meaty” taste you’ll want to rely on marinades, sauces and spices to create umami flavor.
  • Opt for the air fryer. This cooking method gives a delicious crisp and crunch to everything from air-fryer tofu to store-bought chick’n tenders.
  • Avoid overcooking! Unlike a beef patty that has a lot of natural fat to keep it moist and juicy, plant-based meat requires careful cooking. Pay attention to any instructions on the package for the best results.
  • Don’t get stuck in a recipe rut. There are always more plant-based options coming to the market. Add them to your plant-based diet grocery list and get cooking!

Some of Our Favorite Plant-Based Recipes
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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.