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Confused with meat alternatives and replacements? We get to the meat of the matter…

As consumers become more mindful about their meat consumption to benefit their health and the environment, demand for plant-based ingredients that can replace meat continues to rise across the globe.

But what’s the difference between a meat alternative and a meat replacement?

Recreating the meat experience

Meat alternatives are any protein-rich plant-based food source that you can eat instead of meat.

Meat replacement, on the other hand, include plant-based products that mimic the taste and texture of meat, creating a sensory experience that can convince your mind that you’re eating meat. However, these products with added various health benefits, such as zero cholesterol.

Plant-based meat alternatives

To help you find the best option for your new plant-based lifestyle, local food awareness NGO ProVeg South Africa shares 8 top plant-based meat alternatives.

Soya protein: Soya chunks and mince are very inexpensive ingredients that are easy to prepare. They consist of dehydrated soya which, once mixed with water, can be used as a meat substitute in almost any dish.

Soya protein is the most common ingredient in meat replacement products in South Africa. You can use this product to create vegan burgers, meatballs, cutlets, bolognese sauce, or chilli sin carne. You can add marinades and spice mixtures to produce virtually any aroma or flavour.

Pea protein: The humble pea is a plant-based source of protein and iron, while low in fat and carbohydrates. Pea protein is increasingly used to create impressive meat replacement products, mimicking the taste of beef and chicken alike. Pea-based products are manufactured as a combination of vegetables, pea protein and various spices.

Seitan: Seitan is made from the protein contained in wheat. Easy to season and prepare, and with a consistency similar to meat, seitan is a popular meat substitute that has been a staple ingredient in Asian cuisine for millennia. It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving only the wheat gluten. It acquires its meaty texture by boiling, baking, or steaming the raw dough.

Seitan is used in a broad range of products, including cold cuts, sausages, and cutlets. Since seitan is essentially wheat gluten, it is not suitable for people with celiac disease or those who are following a gluten-free diet.

Mushrooms: There are many different types of mushrooms that offer rich earthy flavours and meaty textures. Mushrooms do not have as high a protein content compared to other meat alternatives such as tofu and legumes. They are, however, high in zinc, selenium and B vitamins.

Mushrooms are super versatile in the kitchen. You can chop them and prepare them with lentils as an alternative to a meaty bolognese, prepare them as a steak, or stuff them with other veggies and herbs. They also make a great plant-based meat replacement to make steaks or biltong.

Tofu: Tofu is the classic meat alternative and has been one of the basic sources of nutrition in Asia for centuries. Appreciated as a low-calorie source of protein, tofu is also versatile as it easily absorbs aromas from spices and marinades. Today, tofu is available in countless variations, including aromatic, smoked versions, and marinated varieties flavoured with various herbs and spices.

Tofu is made using soaked soya beans, which are mashed with water to form a smooth puree. Afterwards, the puree is filtered, which separates the firm, fibrous constituents from the liquid content. The liquid is then heated to just below boiling point and curdled, which solidifies the liquid content in a similar way to how cheese is made. The tofu is then pressed into slabs, while the leftover solid mass, commonly known as okara or soya, is dehydrated and used as mince, chunks, or cutlets.

Tempeh: Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soya beans. Similar to the production of cheese, tempeh takes advantage of the effects of special bacterial cultures that break down the protein in the beans and make them particularly accessible to the human digestive system.

Containing 20% protein on average and a high fibre content, tempeh is ideal for a balanced diet. Thanks to its versatility, there are no limits to one’s culinary creativity when using tempeh.

Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes include black beans, lentils, chickpeas and many more. They contain more protein than many types of meat, and provide a source of iron. They are also rich in fibre. Beans are often used to create veggie burgers or sausages. Chickpeas are very filling and constitute the basic ingredient in several Middle Eastern dishes, including falafel and humus.

Jackfruit: Jackfruit is a large tropical fruit that is often bought tinned. Jackfruit offers a shredded meat texture that is often used to create faux pulled pork or chicken dishes.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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