Various cultures around the world have sought out and created meat alternatives for centuries. Currently, there is a high demand for alternative meats because of concerns about animal welfare, health, and the environment.
The sales of fake meat products have risen in the United States since the early 2000s. (1) But, one unfortunate problem with vegan meat has been that not everyone appreciates the texture and the taste. Due to advances in technology, vegan meat tastes more than ever like real meat. In fact, the stuff has fooled many customers and critics.
The rising availability and prevalence of vegan meat has raised some questions with consumers: What the heck is it made out of? And, is it really better for you than real meat?
How Vegan Meat is Made
It's important to note that there is a difference between vegan meat and meatless meat. Meatless meat may have small amounts of animal products such as whey, casein, animal protein, or eggs. Vegan meat, however, does not have ingredients from animals whatsoever.
The ingredients of specific vegan meat products depend on the manufacturer. The two most popular producers of vegan meat include Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. According to a company explainer from Impossible Foods, the company found a type of yeast that makes soy leghemoglobin, which is identical to the protein myoglobin in meat which gives meat its flavor and color. (2) The other ingredients in their famous burger patties include sunflower oil, coconut, potato protein, and soy.
For Tysons meatless chicken nuggets, the protein comes from flaxseed, egg white, and peas. Beyond Burger uses beet juice extract and a mixture of coconut oil, canola oil, and pea protein isolate to get its color and taste.
To most authentically replicate the feeling, many meat analogs begin with a textured vegetable protein or soy protein. To create a fibrous texture, food manufacturers often alter the molecular structure of the soy by exposing it to acid, heat, or a solvent and reshaping it. The denatured molecules are then held together with some type of gel so that they resemble meat more closely.
Other faux-meat products are made from wheat gluten, which has that stretchy, chewy feeling. Others still are even simpler, such as the products from Quorn, made with a process of double fermentation. Or, for instance, some fake bacon products that simply use seasoned coconut flakes or carrot strips.
Do We Need Meatless Meat?
According to scientific studies, animal consumption is not sustainable for the environment. People consume animats around the globe at tremendously high rates, which requires a lot of fertilizer, feed, land, and water. According to a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production, "Consuming animal products is a well-recognized driver of greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, biodiversity loss, and nutrient cycling impacts due to agricultural production." (3) Additionally, meat production makes up for a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture industry.
For this reason, many people are moving towards diets that do not include animal products. The idea is that this transformation will reduce ocean pollution, air pollution, and land-use. Reducing meat-based diets could make a huge difference in emissions for the United States because Americans consume it at three times the global average according to the USDA. (4) Meat alternatives allow people to still get protein as well as make the food items that they are used to without the need for animals.
The alternative to creating veggie meat is to simply eat vegetables. However, this can be challenging for people who are still transitioning towards a vegan diet. Many of us cling to the familiar and can have difficulty adjusting to a new taste. Instead of only eating veggie burgers, meat substitutes allow people you still have the familiar taste and feel of the food that they enjoy.
If you struggle in the grocery store, find a food delivery service for vegan meals.
Is Vegan Meat Better for The Environment?
The answer to this question depends on the comparison at hand. Many experts agree that producing vegan meat is a little better for the environment than producing beef. However, there are questions from environmental advocates about using genetically modified soy and the unknown effect on the environment. (5)
Genetically engineered crops tend to use certain practices and pesticides that are harmful to insects as well as the land. Still, some vegan meats are more sustainable than others. For example, there are meatless meats made without so many processed ingredients.
While Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger use modified ingredients, The Impossible Burger uses a lot less herbicide to produce than a standard burger derived from a cow. More research will be needed before scientists can be sure about the effects of the production of meat alternatives on the environment.
Health Qualities of Vegan Meat
The health impacts of consuming plant-based meat are relative. By definition, it should be healthier than eating red meat because it doesn't come with some of the health risks like high blood pressure. However, nutritionists hesitate to classify meat alternative burgers as health-food because they tend to be high in sodium and high in saturated fat.
According to the company website for Beyond Meat, "Beyond Meat items offer protein levels greater than or equal to their animal-based counterparts with no cholesterol, no antibiotics, and no hormones." Not much is said about sodium, but we do know that the average veggie patty may have about 500 mg of sodium and some veggie sausages may have 600 mg/link, while deli slices rest around 300 mg.
So, it is possible that eating a vegan hot dog is just as bad for you as eating a regular hot dog. However, just like you wouldn't eat (or shouldn't eat) a regular hot dog every day, you don't want to eat vegan hot dogs every day either.
Some traditional fake meat options are not unhealthy, as they come from mushrooms, tofu, or ordinary ingredients. The new fake meats may be dangerous simply due to the unhealthy additives that come into play with competitive manufacturing.
Either way, it is important to diversify your diet. Include other whole foods from plants that are rich in protein such as beans and tempeh, and do not rely solely on meat replacement options in your meals.
Some people use plant-based meats as a way to transition to a more comprehensive, whole foods diet. Other people may serve vegan chicken nuggets to their children solely for convenience rather than health.
What Kinds of Meat Substitutes Exist?
The Impossible Burger rose in popularity when it was introduced as an option at Burger King. Now, you can find plant-based meat at your local grocery stores (such as Walmart, Trader Joe’s, and Target), health food stores, or the supermarket. The shelves are usually found alongside meat-free products such as tofu, in the snack aisle, or in the frozen food section.
Some of the meat substitute products that you can find include jerky, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ribs, burgers, chicken strips, chicken nuggets, wings, ground beef, chicken patties, stinks, turkey, ham, and even seafood. Yes, that means there is shrimp for vegans. For example, Quorn's brand of fishless sticks is a popular product in the grocery store aisles for meat alternatives.
There are also hundreds of recipes online that you can make right in your kitchen if you're looking for a variety of flavors. In addition to the classic veggie burger, you can make cauliflower buffalo wings or even fake burgers made of portobello mushrooms.
Sweet potatoes, lentils, and chickpeas are also other ingredients that you can combine with spices to make something that resembles meat. There are plenty of options for vegetarian consumers to replace meat with plant protein in their diet.
If you do not eat animal protein whatsoever, make sure you look at the ingredients in your meat alternative products to find out if they are truly vegan.
Try a meat subscription to find the best options for your household.
You can make vegan meat out of all sorts of substances. For example, brands of vegan chicken wings are often made of cauliflower dipped in sauce. The main variety of ingredients includes a list of wheat gluten, vegetable protein, or soy protein. Anything that can mimic the texture of meat could get on a restaurant menu as plant-based meat.
There are some concerns about processed plant-based meat, such as the meat used to make the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burgers. The health benefits you receive from your veg meat depend on the processing and the added sodium. Some vegan meats such as sausages and burgers contain a high amount of sodium to enhance the flavor and preserve the texture and quality of the item.
If you make your vegan meat substitute at home, it will most likely retain more nutrients and be better for you than if you purchase something from restaurants or from the grocery store.
Chicken is a meat with a challenging texture that has been hard for vegan meat makers to replicate. However, the Beyond Meat vegetarian chicken is now close to the texture regular chicken meat. The ingredients include yeast, camelina, Mustard Seed, yellow peas, and soy.
This solution has taken over a decade to develop, but the texture is one of the reasons people enjoy it. Though the taste isn't quite there, seasoning can go a long way in making vegan products taste like meat.
Some manufacturers replace chicken with other ingredients and proteins, such as flour, pea protein, and non-GMO wheat protein. To enhance the flavor, they may use content such as onion and garlic.
There are plenty of foods that can substitute or take the appearance of meat protein in a vegan diet. Some of these options include Jackfruit, mushrooms, Seitan, lentils, vegetable protein, tofu, black beans, and soy.
Final Thoughts - Vegan Meat
Overall there are a number of items that can create imitation meat. Vegan meat substitutes have become closer than ever to the real thing. However, they don't always hit their mark in replicating the texture of animal-based meat.
Either way, the result of these products is that they can help people who are trying to reach a vegan diet or trying to cut back on meat consumption in general. While they may not have the same health benefits as eating whole foods, some people appreciate their ability to remind them of mainstream foods. Another positive point is the ease of having a quick vegan meal when you don't feel like cooking.
Food technology is becoming more and more advanced, and many scientists expect varieties of vegan meats to take over a large range of the market in the near future. Companies are hopping on the bandwagon to create meatballs, steak, and dinner that uses vegetarian ingredients to appeal to the plate of an ever-changing American population.
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Suman, S. P., & Joseph, P. (2013). Myoglobin chemistry and meat color. Annual review of food science and technology, 4, 79-99.
Van Mierlo, K., Rohmer, S., & Gerdessen, J. C. (2017). A model for composing meat replacers: Reducing the environmental impact of our food consumption pattern while retaining its nutritional value. Journal of Cleaner Production, 165, 930-950.
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Heller, M. C., & Keoleian, G. A. (2018). Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment: A detailed comparison between.