Whether you follow a vegan diet, vegetarian eating style, or simply love to eat more plant-based foods, vegan meat substitutes are a popular and delicious way to enjoy familiar, meaty flavours and textures using planti-ful ingredients. There is, however, a big difference between eating meat substitutes that are made from whole food ingredients and those that are highly processed and packaged.
Many popular store-bought vegan meat substitutes are a compilation of unhealthful oils, refined flours, starches and sugars, natural flavours, preservatives, protein isolates, and veggie powders. They are often very, very far removed from the original vegetables or plant-based proteins they proclaim to have on the package.
Whole food vegan meat substitutes, on the other hand, are different. You can transform a wide array of vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, legumes, and even fruit into incredible tasty and meaty options. And what we love about them is they celebrate the unique and delightful properties of the plant world, rather than trying to mutate plants into something far removed from their original state.
And so, for your consideration, we offer our 10 favourite whole food meat substitutes – and how you can use them deliciously in your plant-based meals.
10 Whole Food Vegan Meat Substitutes
We love cauliflower as a vegan meat substitute in two ways: cauliflower ‘wings’ and cauliflower ‘steaks’. Breaking cauliflower into florets, dipping them into batter, baking them in the oven, and drizzling (or dousing) them in sauce turns them into the perfect bite-sized snack. For cauliflower steaks, slice your head of cauliflower into thick wedges for grilling, pan-frying or baking – they’ll still have some texture so you can dig into them using a knife and fork.
Lentils work as a fantastic replacement for ground meat in pasta sauces, meatballs, and chilis – basically, anywhere you’d normally use ground meat. Any variety of lentil will do and they are super quick to cook.
King Oyster Mushrooms
This particular variety of mushrooms has a very thick, edible stalk with a tender, meaty texture. King oyster mushrooms are fantastic cut crosswise to make mushroom ‘scallops’ or sliced thinly lengthwise and marinated.
Most other varieties of mushrooms also make wonderful vegan meat substitutes as they have tasty, umami flavour – you can make mushroom bacon, toss them into stir-fries, or use them in one-pot soups and stews.
This fruit has been used for centuries in South Asian and Indian cuisines and has recently gained widespread popularity in North America as a vegan meat substitute. You can use large young jackfruit chunks in stews, soups and stir-fries, batter them into nuggets, or cook and shred jackfruit to simulate ‘pulled’ chicken, pork or beef to use in sandwiches or tacos.
Cabbage isn’t just for sauerkraut! It takes on a whole new level of flavour when you cut a head of cabbage into thick slices and roast them in the oven – cabbage steaks turn super tender and caramelized.
Grated Veggies and Grains
Finely chop walnuts, add some seasoning and roast them in the oven to transform them into a vegan ground meat you can add to a variety of recipes like tacos and dinner bowls. Use walnuts on their own, or amp them up by mixing in extra veggies like cauliflower rice, sun-dried tomatoes, or shredded broccoli.
We highly recommend you give one of these vegan meat substitutes a try – they are bursting with flavour and nutrition!