I can believe it’s not meat

I can believe it’s not meat

A look at the meat substitutes available to vegans and their tastes, textures and uses.


“Why do you have to make things taste like meat”, is a common accusation thrown at vegans. The truth is, we don’t. Words such as “sausages” and “burgers” are mere description of a food shape – even in the world of the carnivore not all burgers or sausages contain the same meat, thus invalidating that argument.

Meat substitutes themselves are simply an ingredient to toss into curries, chillis and bologneses in place of flesh. Vegans can survive quite happily on a diet of non-processed food and just fill such meals with a tonne of veggies. However, most of us like to eat a wide-range of foods, so having the choice is nice.

When I first became vegetarian standard textured vegetable protein – TVP (soya) chunks were the meat substitute of choice. Well, for me that choice was either the chunks or the mince version of this rather dry product. I still buy bother versions as it’s a cheap way of making meals more filling. Both versions have the advantage of soaking up flavours, making them much more palatable; it’s how you soak them that’s the key to their taste. You can leave either in a jug of cider or lager for a few hours before use, cook them in a broth or simmer them in a mixture of spices before use – even non-vegans usually thrown a kitchen full of herbs and spices at their meat before consumption.

Most supermarkets now stock a frozen version of TVP mince – perfect for just chucking into spag bog sauce. I find these versions of the ingredient much more tasty than the dried variety – however, they are more expensive too.

Similarly, many health stores stock fake “chicken” or “beef” pieces in their fridges. I have to admit to finding these heavily processed alternatives very yummy indeed. They are also a bit pricey and, I’m sure, taste noting like chicken or beef – although I have no idea what chicken and beef taste like!

Seitan is another popular choice. This one is easy to make at home, from scratch. All you need to a bag of vital wheat gluten (a flour) and the instructions are usually on the pack. Throwing garlic or chilli into the mix can, again, spice up the taste. It you keep it in a cold vegetable broth in the fridge, you can use it over a week – useful if you lead a busy life. Obviously seitan isn’t suitable to those who are wheat intolerant as it’s pure gluten, but I like it.

Incidentally, some Chinese supermarkets stock tinned mock meats that are made of fried gluten. I find these very handy to have in the cupboard for a lazy day – they are relatively inexpensive too.

Tofu is the meat substitute which predates meat substitutes. Bean curd is actually an ingredient in its own right and is great in stir-fries and other Chinese or Thai dishes. The softer varieties are also used in baking or as an egg replacer. I have to admit that I’m not a huge tofu fan. I like some of the marinated varieties, but I find it hard to cook with as I dislike the soft, watery texture. However, tried with loads of turmeric, onions, mushrooms, garlic and black pepper, a tofu scramble makes a great breakfast or lunch dish. It’s easy too.

A recent vegan revolution had the internet overwhelmed by delighted vegans screaming pure joy from their keyboards. Quorn had released a couple of products we can actually eat.

Many non-vegetarians don’t realise that Quorn, until recently, was not suitable for vegans. It contained egg. However, now, as well as a type of burger, you can get vegan-friendly Quorn pieces, and they’re OK.

Like TVP and tofu, on their own, these bad boys are pretty bland and tasteless. However, like the aforementioned, throw them in a nice sauce and they act like a vegan sponge – sucking up all the flavours around them, producing a taste sensation that will rock your world. They can often be found on offer in some of the bigger supermarkets and are well worth having in your freezer to add into a quick curry.

One of my favourite meat substitutes is mushrooms. They are savoury, natural and soak up flavours in the same way as many fake meats. The huge, flat Portobello mushrooms work especially well. You don’t need to buy the expensive varieties, in fact, basic varieties work even better when used instead of meat in pies and curries.

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