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What's the Deal With Meatless Meat?

Switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet seems to be more popular than ever, and as a result, more stores and restaurants are beginning to carry worthy alternatives to meat-based products. Still, those who’ve switched over to a meatless lifestyle are still going to miss a juicy burger every now and then.

A Lot of Options to Choose From

One of the biggest barriers facing those who want to convert to a vegetarian or vegan diet is missing out on all the meat-based dishes they enjoy. As time goes on, though, this barrier is being lowered further and further as food scientists come up with recipes for more and more meat substitutes. Meatless burgers? That’s old news. These days, you can get anything from hot dogs to meatballs to chicken replicated in non-meat form.

What “Meatless Meat” Actually Is

So, knowing that it’s possible to replicate the look and taste of meat–at least to some degree — what, exactly, is it? The short answer is: it depends. There are a few common ingredient bases used in the popular meat substitute dishes, including plant-based substances tofu and seitan. While tofu is a household name, seitan, also known as “wheat meat,” is derived from gluten and is most famously used in Tofurkey, a turkey substitute.

Taste and Texture

Taste, of course, is subjective, but how close does it come to the real deal? This is where the all-important and rarely-seen food scientist shines. Like any good magician, their work is best appreciated the less it is noticed. Aside from just making a flavor profile that your brain recognizes as beef or chicken, they work to find that elusive meat texture to fully trick your brain into thinking it’s eating meat. One of the ways they can do this is to manipulate soybean protein, spinning it to give it that recognizable chew.

Nutrition

While it may be easy to assume that a meatless burger is on the healthy side — come on, it’s next to all of the other diet food!—it would be wise to consider sodium. It’s hard to argue with many of the other values of soy-based food, but one of the ways to make sure that the flavor profile works as well as it does is to add plenty of salt. For example, some soy burger contain nearly 500 milligrams of sodium!

Cost and Availability

One of the added benefits of going meatless is the 21st century is accessibility. It’s never been easier for the average consumer to pick up this particular lifestyle. Advocates like PETA have entire sections on their web pages that discuss affordable recipes for those looking to save a little green in place of that red meat. Whether you want PETA-recommended meals or alternative recipes from a number of online sources, the option to go meatless had never been more readily available.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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