Fact Checked

What is Vegan Meat?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

Vegan meat is a type of food that is totally free from animal-derived products but that is intended to replicate the texture and taste of meat. It is commonly made from plant-derived substances like soy and wheat gluten. Vegan meat can be purchased in unrefined forms that can be used to replace meats in recipes. It is also used by vegan food manufacturers to create prepackaged products that simulate popular meat dishes, such as burgers, chicken nuggets, and sausages.

With its ability to simulate a meaty texture while providing high levels of protein, iron, and calcium, soy is often used to create vegan meat. The most common forms of soy used as meat substitutes are firm tofu and tempeh. Firm tofu, which is made from coagulated soy milk that has been drained and pressed into a block, can be thought of as a blank canvas for vegan cooks. It has little intrinsic flavor, but has a high absorbency that leads it to adopt the flavor of the ingredients with which it is cooked. Firm tofu also retains its shape well when cut, making it useful for dishes like stir-fries and kabobs.

Tofu is a popular meat substitute.
Tofu is a popular meat substitute.

Tempeh is made from whole soybeans that are partially cooked and then pressed into a hard block or bar. Unlike tofu, tempeh has a distinctive, nutty flavor. It usually must be soaked before cooking to soften it and mellow its flavor. Once softened, tempeh can be shredded with a cheese grater, making it a good substitute for ground meat.

Wheat gluten, or seitan, is also sometimes used to produce vegan meat. Made by separating the gluten from wheat flour dough, seitan has a somewhat tough, stringy quality that is similar to certain meats. It is usually sold in a pressed block or strip and can be eaten as-is or added to recipes in place of meat. Seitan is sometimes used in Asian dishes as a duck substitute.

Vegetarian meat crumbles are made of textured vegetable protein.
Vegetarian meat crumbles are made of textured vegetable protein.

All of these basic vegan meat substitutes are commonly used by vegan food manufacturers to create prepackaged imitation meat products. The wide range of products available includes vegan versions of hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs, bacon, chicken nuggets, and ribs. In the US, these items can be purchased at health food shops and even some conventional grocery stores. Vegans should take care to read each food’s ingredient list before consuming, however, as some prepackaged meat substitutes contain other animal-derived products such as eggs.

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Discussion Comments


I've been asking this question for almost 50 years: If "vegans and vegetarians" are totally "animal product free", they why in the WORLD are they forever trying to come up with the "ultimate meat substitute"?

I just don't get that! And no one seems to understand my angst in my not understanding why someone who avoids something specific would want to make an "edible product that is close as it can be in taste, texture, smell, et al." via a vicariously produced "fake meat product" which they're trying to avoid in the first place?

No one has ever made a credible reasoning for why vegans/vegetarians must have a "meat substitute". Substitutes are usually used for "missing something"...


I have found that if I eat a large chunk of tofu, it is repulsive. However, if I use tofu in a soup, I love it. I discovered this when I found tofu floating in my favorite soup at a Japanese restaurant.

Since my husband is allergic to mushrooms, he has to ask what is in his soup before he eats it. He asked the waiter, who told him that the white chunks were tofu. I cringed when I heard that, but since I had eaten the soup before and it was great, I decided to bite into the tofu.

It tasted exactly like the flavors in the soup and nothing else. I believe it contained chives and parsley, among other seasonings.


I tried some frozen vegan burger patties once. I have to say that they lacked flavor. I am not a vegan, but I was just curious to see if these products resembled the real thing.

I tried the fake chicken nuggets, and they were much closer to the true taste than the vegan burgers were to hamburgers. I actually enjoyed them, and I might buy them again.

However, I think the best way to cut meat out of your diet is to pack it full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts rather than substitute what you once loved with an imitator. If you are full of good things, maybe you won’t miss the meat.


My first experience with eating vegan meat was trying some tofu tacos at a friends party. She is a vegetarian and always has many interesting ways of using different kinds of protein in her food.

I must say that it was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. Maybe it was because there were several spices mixed in that it tasted better than I thought it would. Topping the tacos with cheese also helped.

I love meat, so don't intend to use tofu on a regular basis, but the way she had it fixed was not too bad.


If you have tried tofu and can't get used to its taste or texture, you might consider giving tempeh a try. For me, it was much tastier and easier to get used to than using tofu.

One of my favorite recipes is a barbeque tempeh sandwich. With the combination of barbeque sauce, peppers and tempeh, it is very tangy and tasteful. I have found even people that are not vegetarians will eat these sandwiches and enjoy the taste.


I find myself eating less meat all the time. I have never really enjoyed the taste or texture of most meats and am trying to find other ways to get protein in my diet.

I was really hesitant to try tofu as it never sounded very appealing to me either. After looking at several recipes online that used tofu in place of meat, I decided to give it a try.

The first dish I made with this meat substitute was a lasagna dish. Because tofu does a good job of absorbing other colors and textures, I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

If you are considering using tofu for the first time, I would recommend looking for a way to use it blended in with something else. If you taste it raw first, you might not be as interested in using it on a regular basis.


For people that are nervous about eating too much soy but still want to use a meat substitute in their diets there are several that use mushrooms or black beans as their base. In a lot of cases these are delicious and remarkably similar to the real thing.

I think the only criticism would be that these are still very processed foods. They may not have soy in them but they still have all kinds of chemicals and preservatives that might have a negative effect on your health. But I guess you have to pick your battles. No one is completely healthy.


There is a meat substitute company based right here is St. Louis that makes the best vegan meat I have ever tried. It is called Match Meat and it is remarkably similar to the real thing (from what I can remember, it's been ten years since I actually ate an animal). The texture is great and the taste is remarkably close to the real thing.

I had some friends in town over the weekend that are not vegetarians and we made several dishes using Match meat. My friends were delighted. They admitted that they could tell it was not real meat but they said they did not mind at all and they appreciated the reduced fat and calories.

Its my understanding that Match Meat is not available everywhere but I think it is growing in popularity. Check out your grocer's freezer case in the veggie section and see if they sell it. It might change your diet completely.


@starrynight - I've heard of those studies too. I don't think there is anything wrong with occasionally eating soy though.

I'm not a vegetarian, but I actually like to eat tofu sometimes. It's interesting to cook with because it actually takes on the flavor of the food you cook it with. I know some people don't like the texture, but I don't mind it.


A lot of vegan meat is made from soy, which I actually don't think is a good thing. I know some research has come out recently that soy is not very good for you.

I think anyone who eats a lot of vegan meat substitute should consider cutting down, or at least do some research and get informed about the issue.


I love some pre-packaged vegan meat brands. If you haven't yet, you have to try Gardein vegan chicken prodcts, Tofurky for turkey and Boca vegan burgers. These are my family's favorites.

Sometimes I also make some at home with tofu or lentils. There is a great vegan meatball recipe that has lentils, rice and oats and lots of spices. It's delish and so healthy!

With so many different vegan meat options around, I don't know why anyone would not want to become a vegan. Even, my die-hard carnivore relatives love the vegan meats I serve them at get-togethers. I think I'm about to convince one to switch over!


@simrin-- I think you are right about the fact that it's not easy to become a vegan. It definitely doesn't happen overnight. But I don't see a problem with vegans replacing real meat with vegan faux meat. It's normal for us too look for the same flavors in our food. We all have an established palate and it's not comforting to loose that altogether.

At the same time though, vegans are not OK with harming and eating animals. I don't want something on my plate that was alive and suffered because of me. Plus, some vegan meats are so delicious, I would prefer it over real meat even if I wasn't vegan. Vegan meat is much healthier too because it has a lot of protein but doesn't have the saturated fat that comes with meat.


I am a vegetarian and although I know that vegan and vegetarian are not the same thing, I have a very similar diet.

I personally don't really understand the logic behind vegan meat. I have seen different vegan meat alternatives in stores and all of them are meant to look like and I guess also replicate the taste of meat.

I have been a vegetarian since birth and I have no desire to eat meat or anything that looks or tastes like meat. So I feel that eating vegetarian or vegan meat alternatives is like forcing yourself to avoid foods that you actually want to have.

This makes me think that vegan meat came out to satisfy individuals who turned vegan after eating meat for some years. It would make sense, because I'm sure they would miss the texture and taste of meats in their dishes.

Of course I may be wrong because I am not vegan. Maybe someone who is can explain this to me?

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