Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: A Breakdown of the Differences Between the Most Popular Options

To infinity and beyond (burger).

The founders of two California-based companies—Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger—didn't aim to create just another veggie burger. Generally, veggie burgers are made with a combination of soy products and finely diced vegetables such as carrots or mushrooms, grains, and legumes. While they are a good alternative to meat burgers, they certainly don't taste or look like the real deal. Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger disrupted the industry by creating a product that was not only vegan, but also tasted and looked like a real burger made from red meat.

Another difference between these more modern meat alternatives and their predecessors is that Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger were both created in labs and have drawn criticism over regulation practices and labeling (the U.S. Cattlemen's Association has petitioned for the government to ban these companies from using the terms "meat" and "beef" entirely). However, the alt-meat trend shows no signs of slowing down—and to be honest, we're thrilled, seeing as beef is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. (BTW, if cows were a country, they'd be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.) Some of the biggest meat producers in the country are jumping on board, including Tyson Foods, and you can now find veggie burgers on the menus of nearly every fast food chain.

With so many alternative meat options on the market, we wanted to break down the most common products you'll find in grocery stores and restaurants. And if you're considering a more plant-based diet, kudos! Find our guides to the healthiest plant-based foods, plant-based food substitutions you'll love cooking with, vegan recipes, and the most common plant-based diet mistakes here.

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Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat was founded in Los Angeles in 2009 and is sold in grocery stores across the United States. It is primarily made from water, pea protein isolate, canola oil, and coconut oil. In addition to burgers, Beyond Meat has also launched Beyond Beef (ground beef), Beyond Sausage, Beyond Beef Crumbles, and even Beyond Breakfast Sausage Patties.

02 of 07

Impossible Burger

Impossible Burger
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burgers are made primarily from water, soy-protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. One of the Impossible Burger's signature moves is "bleeding" like a real burger, thanks to a magic ingredient called heme, an iron molecule that also exists in real red meat. Impossible Burgers used to be solely available in restaurants (including Burger King's "Impossible Whopper"), but you can now find Impossible "meat" in grocery stores and online.

03 of 07

Veggie Burgers

Veggie Burgers
Greg DuPree

Veggie burgers are a broad category offered by hundreds of different brands with one mission: To offer a delicious alternative to a traditional beef burger. Made from a variety of vegetables, legumes such as lentils or black beans, grains, and often soy, veggie burgers can be purchased in patties in the grocery store or made at home. Not all veggie burgers are vegan, however, as many use eggs as a binding agent. If you have a dairy sensitivity, always read the ingredients label or ask to speak to the chef at a restaurant to ensure the veggie burger is safe to eat.

04 of 07


Sweet-and-Sour Tofu
Alison Miksch

Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk, which is then pressed until firm and shaped into blocks. Half a cup of tofu offers nearly 20 percent of the recommended protein intake, 43 percent calcium, and 36 percent iron. Tofu can be purchased silken, softened, firm, or extra firm. To cook with tofu, dice or slice it and add it to soups, tacos, or even smoothies.

05 of 07


Tempeh is a fermented soybean-based meat alternative popular in Indonesian cuisine. It has higher levels of protein and fiber than tofu and can be made into patties. It has a savory, nutty flavor that can also take on the flavor of barbecue, stir-fries, and more.

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Getty Images

For soy-sensitive folks, seitan is a delicious meat-free alternative made from wheat gluten. Seitan's texture and appearance most closely resembles poultry such as chicken or turkey, but it can be used to mimic ribs, bacon, or pork chops too. Originating in China, Seitan has been embraced in Asian cuisine for thousands of years.

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Jackfruit Foods
bhofack2/Getty Images

Jackfruit is a species within the fig and mulberry family that, when cooked, resembles pulled pork. It can be shredded just like pulled pork, and when tossed with barbecue sauce, spices, maple syrup, and a splash of vinegar, it tastes just like the real deal. Pile it on a soft potato roll or serve alongside collard greens and pit beans for a meat-free taste of a classic barbecue entrée.

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