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6 tasty meat substitutes you'll love cooking with

Do you have a special diet? Maybe you avoid dairy or you limit your carb intake. For many people, the biggest dietary restriction they face is meat. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or are following a special diet that limits certain types of meat, you might feel like you’re missing out if you have to cut out an entire food group. But meat substitutes have served as a stand-in option to help replace critical protein and give diners a meat-like experience. And thankfully, they’ve gotten better since the early days of tofurky!

Jackfruit

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This wonder fruit is probably the newest on the list of meat substitutes, but it’s taken the culinary world by storm. Jackfruit has been transformed into everything from barbecue pulled pork to crab cakes for expert-level cooks. The popular meat alternative is high in fiber but can be a little low in protein. It’s important to keep that in mind if you’re trying to source healthy alternatives to traditional meat sources. So why is jackfruit the cool new kid on the block? The fruit has a hearty texture that best resembles meat, so much so that even those without modified diets can enjoy jackfruit-based recipes.

However, jackfruit can be hard to cook if you don’t know how to prep it. For starters, if you want to make a jackfruit-based meat-like dish, it’s best to opt for unripe fruit. When fully ripened, the fruit is said to taste like mango or bubblegum. But when unripe, the fruit is easily shredded and can be cooked a variety of ways including fried, baked, grilled, or cured like bacon.

Tempeh

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What is tempeh? It’s a popular meat alternative, but if you’re not part of that dietary community, it might sound like a foreign concept. Tempeh is a soy derivative that can trace its roots back to Indonesia in the 1500s. It’s basically a compressed cake made of whole fermented soybean and sometimes additional grains like wheat or barley. Because of its firm texture, tempeh is perfect for grilling and frying. It won’t fall apart in the pan and cause a cooking nightmare.

Since the soybeans are fermented, this protein offers a slightly nutty flavor. Unlike jackfruit, tempeh doesn’t require a large amount of prep. Simply cut, chop, or crumble the pieces you plan to cook, marinate as needed and then cook it as your recipe requires. Some people believe that tempeh is best used as a fish substitute because of its texture.

Mushrooms

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Can fungus take the place of meat? Yes! Have you ever had a portobello mushroom sandwich or burger? The massive fungus has an almost meaty texture and is quite filling. Their savory “umami” flavor makes them a popular meat alternative. More importantly, this ingredient doesn’t require you to have a culinary degree in order to turn it into a meaty substitute. While some of the other meat substitutes on this list must be soaked or dried before using, mushrooms can easily be added in place of meat for a variety of recipes.

Seitan

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Seitan is a homemade meat substitute that’s perfect for people who aren’t concerned about gluten. Just like jackfruit, seitan is probably the most meat-like texture you can find if you’re no longer interested in eating meat. However, it’s made of processed wheat gluten, so it’s not an option if you are gluten intolerant. Most importantly, seitan has a neutral flavor profile, making it perfect for replicating your favorite meat-based dishes, depending on how you season it. And while you can purchase store-bought seitan, it’s also possible to make it at home.

Impossible

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A number of meat-free burgers—some of them Impossible, others just Beyond—have become popular of late, with even the most dedicated carnivores claiming they can scarcely tell the difference. The Impossible Burger scores especially high marks, even making its way onto the menu at fast-food chains like White Castle and Burger King, but it was no easy feat: Years of research and development went into the product. In addition to meat-free, it's also genuinely guilt-free: Impossible says that their burgers use 95 percent less land and 74 percent less water than actual beef burgers while emitting 87 percent fewer greenhouse grass.

Tofu

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And finally, we finish out our list of meat substitutes with a classic choice—tofu. This option has long been used in a variety of Asian dishes as a source of protein and at times as a true meat substitute. Tofu can be crafted to taste like everything from beef to chicken, and as we joked about in the first paragraph, turkey. The soybean-based meat replacement can be bought in a variety of textures including extra-firm to soft. Since tofu also has a neutral flavor profile, you can make it as flavorful as you like with the seasonings you use.

If you’re ready to try your hand at creating yummy meat-free recipes, we highly recommend you check out the recipes on One Green Planet!