To say I’ve had my fair share of… questionable vegetarian meat alternatives is an understatement. Finding the best meat substitutes has been an ongoing journey since I went meat-free seven years ago. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve tried every meatless, vegan, tofu-based alternative out there and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can mimic any type of meat with the right consistency and flavour profile. Here, a ranking of the 10 best and worst meat substitutes on the market!
1. Texturized Soy Protein
This is a no-brainer – texturized vegetable protein, also known as texturized soy protein, wins in overall meat-like texture and taste. When I embarked on this veggie-first lifestyle, the options were very limited and the flavours weren’t quite there yet. Fast forward to present day, I find myself at my local grocery store staring at a massive wall of veggie meat substitutes. So I scanned through each row and through trial and error, came across my absolute favourite brand: Gardein. Their vegan beefless ground is my go-to whenever I’m making Tex-Mex tacos or a vegetarian lasagna. The best part is that each serving has a whopping 18 grams of protein and it’s gluten-free.
Next up we have tofu, also known as bean curd. A fan favourite for many. If you’ve had tofu, but thought it was bland, underwhelming, and disappointing, then I’m convinced you haven’t jazzed it up enough. Made well, tofu is one of the most versatile meat alternatives out there. If you’re just starting out, try this tofu-based vegan Nashville hot “chicken” sandwich that’ll make you think twice before calling tofu bland.
Get the recipe: This Vegan Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich Tastes Just Like the Real Thing!
3. King Oyster Mushrooms
There are mushrooms, and then there are king oyster mushrooms. These meaty mushrooms deserve their own category in the world of fungi, being largest in the oyster mushroom family. These mushrooms pack a punch when it comes to texture, flavour, and overall satisfaction. For anybody on the fence about these, I dare you to try a big, slurpy bowl of udon noodles with chunky sauteed king oyster for your next decadent dinner.
Get the recipe: Asparagus and King Oyster Mushroom Yaki Udon
It’s the texture for me! Seitan is a wheat derived protein – basically gluten. You may have seen a few viral TikToks showing off its chewy consistency, but seitan has actually been around for a long time. It’s been used as a meat substitute for centuries, dating back to ancient China where it was developed by vegetarian Buddhist monks. When cooked properly, seitan can mimic the juicy texture you’d get in real fried chicken, roasted turkey and even steak.
Get the recipe: Vegan Seitan Steaks
Fun fact: Jackfruit is actually a part of the fig family and grows in tropical regions around the world. Notorious for its stringy texture (when cooked properly), jackfruit makes for the perfect vegetarian “pulled-pork” alternative. Whether you’re having a BBQ night or whipping up some jerk jackfruit sandwiches for lunch, don’t be afraid to experiment when it comes to this succulent fruit. You’d be surprised by the many ways you can incorporate it into your meatless meals.
Get the recipe: BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwiches
Often confused with tofu, tempeh is more like tofu’s nutty cousin. It’s a plant-based protein that originated in Indonesia, made from soybeans that have been cooked, fermented and molded into a cake-like block. I find that tempeh requires a little more time to prepare but with a little TLC, you can make some of the most flavourful vegetarian dishes, like this chorizo-flavoured breakfast wrap.
Get the recipe for Chorizo Tempeh Breakfast Wraps
Cauliflower is a bold option – controversial, even. Some may not consider this a meat substitute and to that I say, challenge accepted. Cauliflower may not deliver on meat-like texture but it does offer a mild crunch and sweet, nutty notes that makes it so easy to season. Personally, Wholly’s Buffalo Cauliflower Wings were a turning point for me. The crispy bite-sized snacks are perfect for lazy late-night cravings, or toss them into your next “chicken” caesar salad for an extra kick. If you’re looking for a creamy, cheesy cauliflower dish, this cacio e pepe will do the trick.
Get the recipe: Cauliflower Cacio e Pepe
8. Beans and legumes
Protein-packed lentils and chickpeas to be more specific. When baked or fried they have the most crunchy texture. Yes, seasoning can take these to another level of flavour, but don’t expect these to deliver the same chewy texture as jackfruit or mushrooms. These can be prepared in the most delicious dishes like in an authentic falafel or creamy curry, but rank lower on actual meat alternatives as they create a whole other experience that’s worth appreciating in itself.
Get the recipe: Easy Spicy Lentil and Vegetable Curry
If you’re an eggplant parm, keep scrolling, this doesn’t concern you. Okay, pivoting to a not-so-favourite – eggplant. Honestly, I just don’t buy the hype as a meat alternative. There are delicious eggplant recipes, don’t get me wrong. But for anybody starting their meat-free journey, the naturally creamy texture you get out of these veggies may not be what you look for in a meat substitute. That said, this Vegan Middle Eastern Casserole recipe is so delicious, it’ll make you forget meat altogether.
Get the recipe for Vegan Middle Eastern Casserole
10. Quinoa and rice
Tied for last place – quinoa and rice. I nominate these as best supporting actors. These are arguably two of the best binding ingredients and bases for any good vegetarian dish, they just need a little help from other plant-based protein sources and veggies (like red wine glazed tofu and miso-mushroom gravy in this gorgeous grain bowl recipe) to level up as an actual meat alternative.
Related: The Best Non-Dairy Milks to Meet All Your Needs (From Baking to Latte Frothing)