Table of Contents
Demand for plant-based alternatives for meat and dairy products is on the rise. Even the biggest meat lovers sometimes include a legume burger or tofu in their diet. What’s behind it? The vegan trend, the ethical issue, the ecological crisis, the growing supply of vegan food, as well as perhaps the popular Game Changers documentaries with provoking content. Let’s look together at the production, nutritional profile and use of the most popular meat alternatives.
What are the most popular plant-based meat alternatives?
Globally, there is a growing number of vegans and vegetarians, but also people who are specifically restricting their consumption of meat and dairy products. They are called flexitarians, and they only indulge in animal-based foods occasionally. The effort of flexitarians is to eat in harmony with nature, thus protecting the planet and its resources. They restrict meat and dairy products in their diet in order to reduce their carbon footprint. These individuals make up 42% of shoppers, according to recent research. According to current estimates, this trend looks set to continue in the coming years. By 2035, plant-based alternatives could account for up to 11% of total sales of meat, fish and dairy products. This goes hand in hand with reduced meat consumption and lower carbon dioxide emissions. [1-3]
The six most popular plant-based meat alternatives
Plant-based meat alternatives are most often made from legumes, mainly soya. It has a high protein content that our bodies can put to good use. However, some of these foods are low in protein, and it is necessary to supplement this important nutrient with another source. What is the nutritional profile of the most popular meat alternatives, and what can you cook with them?
Tofu probably doesn’t need a lengthy introduction. It entered our diet from Asia, where its production and consumption has a long history. This is not new modern food. Tofu was used as a source of protein by Japanese monks some 1,000 years ago. According to some theories, it came about completely by accident. Others report that a Chinese chef was behind its invention, accidentally adding nigari seaweed to a soy drink, and it began to coagulate. This produced the white solid that we now know as tofu. A similar production process has been maintained to this day. [4-5]
The soybeans are first rinsed and soaked in water for several hours to swell. They are then mixed until to reach a consistency resembling a smooth mash. This blend is then heated to 100 – 110°C, reducing the soy flavour. In some instances, up to twice the temperature using pressure cookers is used in tofu production process. Once heated, the blend is strained to get soy juice. A coagulant (nigari algae or calcium salt) is mixed in to ensure precipitation and a solid texture. Then comes the filtering and the forming into blocks you get in store. 
What are the average nutritional values of 100g of tofu?
Tofu contains all the essential amino acids and is considered one of the best sources of plant protein. It is also rich in antioxidants, isoflavonoids, thanks to its feedstock – soya. In the production process, it is enriched with calcium, which has a similar absorption in the body to that found in milk. The nutritional values of the resulting tofu are influenced by the selection of soya beans, which can have a relatively different nutrient values. Similarly, there is a difference between conventional and BIO production. The advantage of tofu in BIO quality is that it comes from the biologically purest and best quality soy. [7-8]
- 100g of average unflavoured tofu contains 125 kcal, 2.3g carbohydrates, 12g protein, 7.5g fat
- 100g of average BIO tofu contains 70 kcal, 0.9g carbohydrates, 7.2g protein and 4g fat
What to cook with tofu?
In addition to classic white tofu, there is also a smoked, herbal or marinated variety available on the market, as well as those with seaweed or vegetables. We can also find ultra-soft tofu or vice versa, firm tofu. Depending on what kind of tofu ends up in your basket, you can always figure out what to make with it.
- Soft white tofu is great for sweet creams, salty spreads or sauces. You can add it wherever you would add curd or yogurt.
- Flavoured and firmer options are ideal for stir-fries with vegetables, vegan curry or poke. It can also be added to soups or salads.
- After mashing and seasoning with turmeric and black salt, you can roast it in a pan.
- The advantage is that the tofu does not need to be cooked. Then, if you need a quick meal, just cut it up and add it to the vegetables. And here you go, a quick and nutritionally balanced snack is on the table.
Tempeh is originally from Indonesia. It’s been used in this area for hundreds of years, but it didn’t enter our menu until the 20th century. It’s a kind of fermented version of tofu. Furthermore, it is made from soaked and boiled soya beans, to which a starter culture is added in the form of the mould of the genus Rhizopus oligosporus. It will grow across the soybeans over the course of several hours to days, bringing it together to form a hard, white consistency. Thanks to the fermentation process, tempeh acquires completely new nutritional properties and offers a different taste. 
What are the average nutritional values of 100g of tempeh?
Because tempeh is made from whole soybeans, it typically contains more fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals than tofu. For example, it boasts higher levels of calcium, iron and also B vitamins, which are often absent from the diet of vegans and vegetarians. It is also a source of beneficial antioxidants in the form of isoflavonoids. Thanks to the fermentation process, it also contains healthy bacteria that can positively affect the gut microbiome and promote healthy digestion. [10-12]
- 100 g of unflavoured tempeh on average contains 192 kcal, 20.3g of protein, 7.6g carbohydrates and 10.8g fat
- 100g of BIO tempeh on average contains 179 kcal, 17.5g of protein, 12g carbohydrates and 8g fat
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What to cook with tempeh?
Even though it has only recently appeared in our diet, its popularity is growing even among sworn meat lovers. It has a typically more pronounced taste than tofu. At the shops, you can find it in different variants, which differ from each other in taste and also in composition. Tempeh can be non flavoured, marinated and also fried. You may even come across tempeh, which is made from lupin or green beans or other legumes. However, these have completely different nutritional values from normal soya tempeh. You can think of a number of great recipes to make from tempeh in the kitchen.
- The easiest way is to slice tempeh and eat it on bread.
- It also tastes delicious marinated and crispy roasted in the oven, pan or on the contact grill.
- You can also create a popular veggie burger or nutritious buddha bowl with it.
Seitan also originates in Asia, specifically China. Hundreds of years ago, Buddhist monks, who are often vegetarians, ate it instead of meat. In this, however, the similarity with tofu or tempeh ends. Seitan is made from wheat protein. It is made by mixing the flour with water and allowing it to rest for a while. The resulting dough is then immersed in clean water and rinsed until left with a spongy mass. At this stage, the flour has been rid of a large part of the carbohydrates and left with pure protein – gluten. Although the procedure is quite easy, it takes a lot of time and patience. If you don’t feel like it, you can buy a ready-made seitan or make it with an instant blend. Simply mix it with water and your favourite spices, then cook it and the seitan is on the table within minutes. [13-14]
What are the average nutritional values of 100g of seitan?
As we’ve said, seitan is pure wheat protein – gluten. Therefore, it is not suitable for celiacs and others who avoid gluten. Everyone else, though, can make a fine meal of it. Looking at the composition, it does not dazzle with high levels of vitamins or minerals, but it surprises with high levels of protein. When we take a closer look at the composition of seitan, we find that it lacks the amino acids such as lysine, methionine and threonine. They should be substances can be supplemented from other protein sources (tofu, tempeh) and cereals (rice, quinoa) in a daily diet. You can, for example, prepare seitan with some wholegrain foods and nuts. Moreover, unflavoured seitan is distinguished by its low calorie, fat and carbohydrate content. This way, it is perfect for weight loss. [14-15]
- 100g of seitan contains 107 kcal on average, 17.9g protein, 9.5g carbohydrates and 0.8g fat
- 100g of BIO seitan contains 74 kcal on average, 13.1g protein, 5.2g carbohydrates and 0.4g fat
What to cook with seitan?
Seitan, whether bought or prepared at home, looks like meat. You can safely add it wherever you would otherwise use a source of animal protein.
- It tasted great marinated. Add some noodles and fry it in a pan with vegetables.
- You can also prepare seitan steaks, skewers or just like pulled meat.
- It also tastes delicious crisp roasted in the oven or on the grill.
- It is also commonly added to sandwiches, burgers or tortilla wraps.
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit originating in India. If you haven’t met the jackfruit yet, you’re probably surprised that we’ve included it in the list of meat alternatives. It has earned its place because of unique qualities. It has a neutral taste, and after peeling and slicing, its consistency resembles pulled meat. This is the main benefit for all those who plan to reduce meat but do not want to give up its fibrous texture.
What are the average nutritional values of 100g of jackfruit?
While Jackfruit resembles meat in appearance, these foods are very distant in terms of nutritional values. Fruit cannot be considered a source of protein. On the other hand, it contains fibre, vitamin A and C, potassium, beta-carotene, lutein and other antioxidants.
So in the case you add a jackfruit in a tortilla wrap instead of meat, you have accomplished the required intake of fruit. However, this kind of meal lacks protein and you’ll probably be hungry again soon. To solve this issue, add a bit more of sliced tempeh, tofu, seitan or legumes into your tortilla wrap. The second option is to increase the amount of protein in other meals during the day. [16-17]
- 100g of jackfruit contains an average of 95 kcal, 1.7g protein, 23.2g carbohydrates and 0.6g fat
If you’re wondering what foods are rich in protein, read our article Twenty Foods With Which You Can Easily Add Protein To Your Diet.
What to cook with jackfruit?
The Jackfruit is a really big fruit that is quite hard to find in Europe. Some shops, however, sell it already peeled and sliced in cans.
- The jackfruit can then be broken into shreds and processed in a similar way as meat.
- The advantage is that it has a bland taste that is easily modified with a marinade and spices.
- You can add some spices and then roast in on a pan and use it for sandwiches, burgers, tortilla wraps, tacos or soups.
5. Soy meat (dehydrated soy protein)
Soy meat is also found under a more precise label – dehydrated textured soy protein. It is made from defatted soya flour, which contains minimal carbohydrates and a high proportion of both protein and fibre. It is processed into various forms such as noodles, cubes or slices. These are then stripped of water and therefore have a long lifespan. Moreover, soya meat is probably the first meat alternative most of us ever tasted. Archer Daniels Midland, an American food company, started selling it in the 1960s. From the US, soy meat quickly made its way to Europe, where vegans and vegetarians became particularly fond of it. 
What are the average nutritional values of 100g of soy meat?
Due to the fact that it is made from soya flour, which has been stripped of fat and a large proportion of carbohydrates, soy meat has a high protein content. It is also rich in fibre and a range of minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. 
- 100g of soy meat contains on average 327 kcal, 51.4g protein, 33.9g carbohydrates and 1.2g fat.
What to cook with soy meat?
Use 20 – 30 g of this product in a dry state per serving. When soy slices or noodles are cooked (in water or broth), it increases in volume and resemble meat. Soy meat doesn’t have a very strong taste, so it’s important to add some spices.
- You can roast soy meat with vegetables or mushrooms.
- Add it to salads or soups.
- Prepare vegetable goulash from soy noodles.
- Try soy meat balls or use it to make vegan Bolognese sauce.
6. Vegetable burgers, sausages or ham
Due to the high demand for meat alternatives, food companies have begun to compete in the production of burgers, sausages and other plant-based variants of sausages. In their production they try to approximate as much as possible the appearance, taste and nutritional characteristics of meat. Some attempts are very successful, but they often have to pay a toll in the form of endless flavourings, colours and other additives. Creating a synthetic bloody steak that will also taste good is just not that easy to do.
What plant-based meat and fish options exist?
- chicken strips
- minced meat
- roast duck or chicken
- dried meat
- sausages, bacon, ham, chorizo
- tuna from a can
- fish steaks
- smoked salmon
What ingredients are used for plant-based alternatives to meat, fish and sausages?
The ingredient list of these products often includes soy, pea or other legume proteins, wheat gluten, maize starch, coconut oil and also guar gum, maltodextrin, vegetable extracts, spices, aromas and other additives. The whole list would be large enough for one article. These are such highly processed foods that should not appear very often in our diet. In some cases, these meat alternatives consist only of carbohydrates, oils, water, colours and seasonings. They’re also lacking in protein. Therefore, even when selecting some meat alternatives, take a look at the ingredients list and possibly include some other sources of protein. [20-21]
- Each of these products features completely different ingredients and nutritional values, so it is practically impossible to find average nutritional values per 100g.
You can also prepare a vegetable burger at home, and you won’t need nearly as many ingredients and additives. For example, lentils, chickpeas, beans or a quick alternative to burger meat, either roasted tempeh or seitan will serve well.
If you are interested in what other sources of plant proteins exist and how to include them in your diet, read our article What Sources Of Plant Protein Are Best and Why Include Them In Your Diet?
What are the pros and cons of plant-based meat alternatives?
Tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other meat alternatives will probably appear more and more frequently in our diets. What we eat affects not only our health, but also the environment. It is therefore important to consider the advantages and disadvantages that these foods can bring.
Benefits of plant-based meat alternatives
- Health benefits: Plant-based meat alternatives generally contain less cholesterol and saturated fats than meat. These are high-risk nutrients that health organizations recommend reducing because they can negatively affect our health. These products also typically contain more beneficial fibre and antioxidants. For these and other reasons, a diet based on plant-sources is associated with a lower risk of developing obesity, heart and blood vessel disease or diabetes. However, this always depends on the overall context of your diet and lifestyle. 
- Environment: Growing, harvesting and producing foods of plant origin has a smaller environmental impact than meat and dairy production, according to a number of studies. This is mainly because cattle have to eat and drink, and the majority of maize or soybean production is used for their livelihood. According to some calculations, daily consumption of 75g of beef for one year is equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a car when it travels 11,000 kilometres. In contrast, 150g of beans each day per year is, according to the same calculation, the equivalent of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the same car for only 150 km. Greenhouse gases are among the frequently downplayed factors associated with the acceleration of global warming. [23-24]
- Lower risk of bacterial infection: Tofu, tempeh or seitan can be added to food immediately after unwrapping. We can’t afford this with raw meat. Plant-based alternatives thus present us with a lower risk of contracting with bacteria such as E. coli or campylobacter, which are associated with poorly cooked meat. 
- More varied diet: Meat is a quality source of protein that a lot of people couldn’t imagine a day without. But some may eventually become less comfortable with its daily consumption and preparation. Plant-based alternatives can help to inspire your cooking imagination. Thanks to newly discovered recipes, you will enhance our diet and expand your list of favourite dishes.
Disadvantages of plant-based meat alternatives
- Lower protein content and poorer absorption rate: Soy-based meat alternatives contain all the important amino acids and are well-used within the body. Unfortunately, this does not apply to all plant proteins. They often have less protein than meat and milk per 100g, and our bodies can’t use it as efficiently. Therefore, vegans and other individuals who only eat plant-based protein sources are commonly advised to increase their total protein intake. The use of plant proteins can also support the simultaneous intake of probiotics that improve digestibility and absorption rate. The intake of plant-based protein powder to increase protein in the diet may also be an effective solution. [25-26]
- Lower vitamin B12, calcium and iron content: These vitamins and minerals are often absent from a diet based only on plant sources. Even though they are often added to plant-based meat alternatives, they have lower usability in the body. Natural sources such as meat, eggs or dairy have the upper hand in this respect. [28-29]
- High in additives and salt: Some brands add large quantities of colours, flavourings, salt and other substances to give plant-based meat alternatives a stronger flavour. To prepare fresh meat, it’s enough to add some spices and seasonings, cook it, and we’re done. But in the case of highly processed foods with a lot of additives, you risk not getting full and eating more calories overall because of being hungry. In this respect, it is preferable to select unflavoured versions of tofu or tempeh. These usually contain just two ingredients. [28-29]
It doesn’t play such a role for your body whether you have a slice of tofu or chicken for lunch. It always depends on the overall context. You need to think about what else you ate that day and what our current nutrition needs are relative to the goals. While some people might think a plant-based diet is a lot healthier than an animal based, the opposite is sometimes true. Even plant-based meat alternatives can contain large quantities of fats, salt and other substances. It is important to try to maintain variety in the diet, read labels, eat fruit, vegetables, various sources of protein to get the necessary amount of all the amino acids and follow the other principles of a healthy diet.
If you want to learn how to eat healthy, read our article What Is A Healthy Diet and How To Learn How To Eat Healthily?
Will we cultivate meat in the future?
Until a few years ago, the idea of a vegetable burger was like something out of the science fiction world. We aren’t surprised by vegan tuna or salmon these days. There is a growing awareness in the world of the environmental risks of industrially produced meat, more and more people prefer plant-based foods, and many of us include meat-free days or weekends. Demand for animal protein alternatives is soaring. One possible route is insect protein, which we can bring home now, perhaps in the form of protein powder or a bar.
Food companies are responding to this and looking for ways to produce the most plausible plant-based alternatives to meat. Scientists are going even further in this issue, devising new ways of manufacturing that we could not have imagined until recently. Meat cultivation in laboratories is also actual. This is done by taking a small amount of muscle, which then grows under laboratory conditions. This meat extraction process is still in the research phase, but it is quite possible that in a few years we will be eating a burger made from artificially grown meat. [31-32]
What should you remember?
Plant-based alternatives to meat are a great addition to our diet and probably a way to conserve the environment. Some of them, like tofu, tempeh or seitan, even help to increase our protein intake effectively. Which, however, is not the case with jackfruit, for example.
If you are trying to reduce meat in your diet, you also need to be careful about the specific ingredients of the chosen plant-based meat alternative. In some cases, low levels of protein, vitamin B12, calcium or iron should be noted and supplemented from other food sources or supplements. Some meat alternatives look promising on the surface, but the ingredients list might be hiding a lot of additives. Therefore, you should look out for these foods and preferably consume classic tofu or unflavoured tempeh, which you can prepare in your favourite way.
Do you have someone in your inner circle who is looking for ways to reduce meat and replace it healthily? If so, help them by sharing this article explaining the essentials.
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 Future Fields is tackling cultured meat’s biggest problem [https://social.techcrunch.com/2020/08/02/future-fields-is-tackling-cultured-meats-biggest-problem/