Whether you’re veggie, vegan, flexi, or finally getting around to trying a meat alternative or two, there’s now plenty to choose from in shops and restaurants when it comes to plant-based proteins.
Most meat-free products tend to use soya or soya beans as their base – think tofu, tempeh and more processed meat replicas – but you can also now find meat alternatives made from fruit and vegetables like jackfruit or mushrooms or peas.
The meat-free market now covers everything from plant-based burgers to sausages, chicken pieces, bacon and charcuterie, meaning you can recreate almost any meat dish without any animals being involved.
Our testing covered all forms of meat substitutes, from those which emulated meat products, to standalone products such as tofu or tempeh which can be stir-fried or used in soups, stews, curries.
Overall, we were looking for products which excelled in terms of both taste and texture. They didn’t have to look or taste like meat, but it was important that they were flavourful, and would provide a point of difference when compared to using other fruit or vegetables.
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This Isn’t Bacon rashers
These faux bacon rashers, made from soya protein concentrate and radish, carrot and paprika extracts, were unlike any other meat substitute we’d tried before. We loved their versatility – they held up to being added to a veggie carbonara, as well as sitting pretty on top of homemade waffles with maple syrup. Their look and colour is impressive, their taste is smoky and rich, but it’s their robust yet melt-in-the-mouth texture which makes them truly stand out from other meat substitutes we tested. The This Isn’t Chicken sea salt and black pepper pieces are also well worth trying. We also love the packaging.
Beyond Meat beyond burger
There’s a reason why restaurants such as Honest Burger are serving up Beyond Burger patties in their veggie burgers; they’re some of the meatiest burgers we’ve tried and in our opinion, some of the best-tasting. 100 per cent vegan, gluten and soy-free, the patties are made from pea protein which is subjected to heating, cooling and pressure to mimic meat. They also contain a whopping 19.2g of protein per burger. Robust but succulent, flavoursome yet meat-free – these are all-round winners for us.
Cauldron Lincolnshire sausages
There are plenty of meat-free sausages on the market, but we particularly rate these Lincolnshire sausages by Cauldron (you may recognise the brand from its range of falafel). Made from rehydrated vegetable protein and speckled with sage, parsley and pepper, these bangers are herby, flavoursome and well-balanced. They hold up to being fried in oil on the hob for ten minutes or placed in the oven for twenty, and can be stored in the fridge or freezer. We’d recommend serving them in a veggie sausage sandwich, complete with fried onions, mustard, and a liberal dollop of ketchup.
Rudy’s Vegan Butcher mixed charcuterie
London’s first vegan butchers opened its doors in 2020 and have been swamped with orders – both in-store and online – since. Its fresh “meat” counter offers a range of tempting meat-free charcuterie, from pastrami to smoked ham, “baycon” and black puddin’. Made from a combination of wheat protein, beans, soya and spices, these are just the things to add to sarnies or salads. If you’re looking for further inspiration regarding how to eat your meat-free charcuterie, look no further than Rudy’s’ DIY kits, available for nationwide delivery, which help you to make everything from dirty burgers to reuben sandwiches at home.
The Tofoo Co. Naked tofu
Tofu, made soya beans, has been gaining popularity in recent years, not least for its versatility. While it can be eaten raw – we love nibbling it straight from the fridge – it really comes into its own when seasoned or left to marinate with punchy flavours such as garlic, ginger, chilli and lime. Unlike some varieties of tofu, The Tofoo Co’s doesn’t need to be pressed before eating. While the brand now has a range of tofu under its belt – from tempeh to flavoured chunky bites – we’re particularly keen on the naked tofu which is made with just water, soya beans and nigari, a natural ingredient made from sea water.
Biona jackfruit young tender pieces
Jackfruit is a sizable fruit which is grown in Asia and belongs to the same family as figs and mulberries. While ripe jackfruit typically tastes sweet, unripe jackfruit – which is what we’re referring to here – tends to have a more savoury flavour, meaning it carries spices and flavours well. One of its biggest assets is its meaty and fibrous texture, which, when seasoned, works remarkably well as a substitute for pulled pork. It’s also great in stews and homemade jackfruit burgers.
Quorn cocktail sausages
These small but mighty cocktail sausages are the ideal snack item and perfect for picnics or car journeys. High in protein (13g per 100g) and low in saturated fat, they’re made from mycoprotein – a type of protein which comes from fungi. The best part is there’s no cooking required, so you can gobble them straight from the pack. While these are not suitable for vegans as they contain egg, Quorn does have vegan-friendly products in its range.
The Meatless Farm meat-free mince
Made with soya, pea and rice proteins, this meat-free product looks convincingly like meat. High in protein and also a source of fibre and vitamins such as B12, it’s suitable for vegans and can be used as a simple swap for mince in dishes such as lasagne, chilli and bolognese. While it does look the part, it can disintegrate a bit when added to sauces, but dry frying it first can firm up its texture slightly. Like many meat-free substitutes, it really soaks up flavour.
The Unbelievable Alt. chickenless strips
The Unbelievable Alt. range features a range of meat alternative pieces including beef and lamb, but it was the chicken pieces which stood out for us. Made from rehydrated textured soya, potato and broad bean proteins, these chunky vegan pieces work well in tacos, fajitas and stir frys. They retain their firm texture when cooked, and soak up spices and marinades.
Tempeh Meades traditional soya bean tempeh
Using traditional techniques learnt in West Java, Bristol-based Tempeh Meades makes its unpasteurised tempeh by hand. Made with just organic soya beans and a starter culture, this authentic and unadulterated meat substitute is nutty, moreish and incredibly versatile (and not to mention rich in protein). It’s available for nationwide delivery – you can order between 500g and 4kg’s worth, depending on your demands – and stays fresh in the fridge for two days once opened, or can be frozen. It also sells tempeh made with Cornish seaweed or red quinoa. A must-try.
The verdict: best meat substitutes
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