Alternative Meats Are Having a Moment—We Break Down the Different Types to Cut Through the Confusion
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, 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.
Unlike veggie burgers, which are primarily made from real grains and vegetables, 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 trend shows no signs of slowing down. Some of the biggest meat producers in the country are jumping on board; in June, Tyson Foods announced a new line called “Raised & Rooted” starting with pea-based chicken nuggets.
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.
Beyond Meat was founded in Los Angeles in 2009 and was the first plant-based burger 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, and Beyond Beef Crumbles.
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. Unlike Beyond Meat products, which are sold in grocery stores, Impossible Burgers are only available in restaurants—most recently Burger King released the “Impossible Whopper,” launching the first ever vegan version of their iconic burger.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.