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Vegetarian Substitutes for Chicken

Whether for moral, health or dietary reasons, many people are searching out vegetarian substitutes for chicken. Consumers can visit health food stores and supermarkets to find healthy foods that cut calories while still replicating the taste and texture of chicken.

Although vegetarianism might seem like a contemporary trend, vegetarianism is not new. Vegetarian Buddhist cooks have been making what they call “mock meats” for centuries. Mock meats can come in several forms, including seitan (or wheat gluten) and tofu. While these ingredients do not taste like chicken by themselves, they come together to create convincing chicken substitutes when combined with seasonings and marinades.

Seitan- and Tofu-Based Chicken Substitutes

Seitan is a common chicken substitute because of its "meaty" texture. Seitan is also popular because it is an excellent source of protein while being low in fat. Seitan can be flavored however the chef would like. On its own, seitan is flavorless, so it absorbs sauces and marinades easily. Although many chefs and vegetarians swear by their own seitan recipes, some markets also sell seitan cutlets.

Tofu is another popular substitute, but its consistency is different from seitan. Tofu is usually softer and less meat-like than seitan. Tofu does, however, absorb flavors and marinades effortlessly. For this reason, some cooks choose to use marinated tofu “chicken” cutlets in recipes that call for chicken.

Commercial Chicken Substitutes

As vegetarianism has grown in popularity, the availability of commercial vegetarian chicken substitutes has drastically increased. Most supermarkets now carry several brands of vegetarian substitutes in all shapes and sizes--including vegetarian nuggets, patties and even “chicken” legs. Commercial chicken substitutes are appealing because some come quite close to matching the taste of chicken. Because these products look and taste so much like chicken, they are easy substitutes for even non-vegetarians who are looking to cut excess calories from their diets. While these products resemble chicken, most chicken substitutes contain fewer calories and less fat than products that are made from actual chicken.

Other Protein Substitutes

Instead of using a substitute that tries to mimic the taste or texture of chicken, you could consider using a completely different protein or vegetable in place of chicken. While these substitutes won’t fool people into believing they're eating a piece of chicken, the substitutes will provide healthy nutritional benefits. For example, chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) might work as a chicken substitute and contain only 269 calories and 4g of fat per cup while still providing 15g of protein. You could also go with a vegetable that might not contain much protein but would still provide other vitamins. For example, sliced eggplant cutlets make great chicken substitutes, and eggplant contains only 35 calories per cup.

What’s key is to remember to season any dish that contains a vegetarian chicken substitute. It is not the substitute but the seasonings that simulate the taste of chicken. With that in mind, the substitute possibilities are endless.   

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