Like their name implies, meatless meatballs are mock meatballs made without meat. This alternate version of the traditional meatball can be made by hand or purchased in stores that carry meatless items. There are many methods for making these, including those that call for textured vegetable protein (TVP), lentils, or tofu. While most, if not all, meatless meatballs are vegetarian, they are not all vegan because some include animal byproducts like eggs and cheese that vegans do not eat.
A traditional meatball is typically made with ground meat and spices. Bread crumbs, eggs, and minced onion are additional possible ingredients. Meatless meatballs attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of the traditional version without including meat in the recipe.
A meatless version incorporates a substitute for the ground meat. There are many different possible substitutes, but the most common are breadcrumbs or oatmeal. Tofu, tempeh, or mock meat products are also typical ingredients. Some include cheese, nuts, or vegetables like potatoes and eggplant. Many meatless variations use eggs as a binding agent, while a vegan version would incorporate an egg substitute or non-animal derived binding agent instead.
Some variations call for TVP, a meat analog made from soy flour. TVP is a byproduct of soybean oil extraction; it is high in fiber and protein but must be reconstituted in hot water for a few minutes prior to being eaten. The texture of TVP is similar to ground meat and absorbs flavorings and spices effectively. This meat substitute and extender is available in small flakes as well as larger chunks and in unflavored and flavored varieties.
Despite a difference of ingredients, meatless meatballs are prepared and served in the same fashion as the meat version. Both involve forming small balls with the ingredients and cooking them by frying, baking, or braising in sauce. Commonly served with pasta in sauce, meatless meatballs can be used in sandwiches, soups, or any other way that the meat version would be.
As some recipes include animal byproducts like eggs and cheese, not all versions will be acceptable to vegan diners. Vegans do not consume any animal products or byproducts, like eggs, cheese, and honey. If the meatless meatballs are going to be served to vegans, it is important to make sure that they do not contain any animal byproduct ingredients.
Although meatless meatballs can be prepared by hand, they can also be purchased in stores that carry meatless products. Commercially produced meatless meatballs are often in the frozen section and take little time to reheat and serve. These types of meat-free meatballs usually come in a variety of flavors, like spicy and mushroom, and are made by many different brands. The consumer should sample several brands to determine which one he or she prefers.