A decade ago, the idea of having a meat substitute for dinner might not have been the most appealing. When they first arrived on the market they were often dry and crumbly. Why bother with a meatless burger when it tastes more like a flavourless falafel?
It’s safe to say plant-based meat brands have come a long way since. A range of brands have developed new technology to better emulate the texture, taste, and mouthfeel of real meat, meaning you’ll never have to miss out on enjoying your favourite meat dishes again as the alternatives are just as delicious, and better for you and for the environment.
What is vegan/plant-based meat?
What is plant-based meat? Plant-based/vegan meat is a meat alternative or substitute of plant origin. Developments in foodtech have meant more companies can create food products with the same tasty, juicy flavour, texture and mouthfeel as real meat burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets, beef steaks or lamb kebab. Unlike real meat, plant-based substitutes are made using ingredients that do no harm to animals and offer people a way to reduce their dependency on meat products and the meat industry. Studies have shown that meat production causes approximately 60% of greenhouse gas production globally. Eating less meat by swapping to plant-based alternatives is therefore a great way to improve our carbon footprint.
Is plant-based meat healthy?
While the choice for vegan meat alternatives is larger than ever, many people still wonder whether plant-based meat is healthy. Several studies have been conducted that have proved that eating more plant-based foods is good for one’s health. By reducing one’s meat intake and replacing it with vegan meat, one can automatically reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Recent studies have found that consuming red and highly processed meat increases cholesterol level and blood pressure, which are both bad for heart health. This is due to the high levels of saturated fats in red meat and excess salt often found in processed meat.
While it is true that plant-based meat substitutes are processed, a study published last year revealed their nutrient profile is still healthier than animal-based proteins, with the energy density, total fat, and saturated fat content being much lower. Plant-based meats were also said to have a much higher fibre content. One downside which the study revealed however is that some types of plant-based meat tend to often have a high salt content, so it’s important to keep this in mind when purchasing substitutes. The report shows 15% of the plant-based meat products analysed had a high salt content in comparison to 13.7% of the meat ones.
How are vegan/plant-based meats made?
So how is plant-based/vegan meat made? No matter the company, what all these foods have in common is that they are completely animal-free. In order to resemble animal protein as much as possible, each brand follows its own unique recipe. Meatless Farm for instance combines the extracts of beetroot, radish, and tomato to give its meat-free products their familiar meat-like colour. The company also uses soya, rice and pea proteins mixed with coconut, canola and shea oils to give the product its juicy texture, and carrot fibre and the plant-based thickener methylcellulose to bind all the ingredients together.
Meat alternatives which are made using soya are great options to choose in particular, as they contain amino acid that might normally be found in beef, poultry and eggs. Amino acids are essential for the body as it needs them to build its proteins, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Those allergic to soy should avoid these products, but there are plenty of alternatives which boast their own health benefits. Other common ingredients used to create plant based meat alternatives include pea protein, tempeh, tofu, jackfruit and mushrooms. Tempeh is a good food for gut health, while mushrooms are a great plant-based source of vitamin D.
Why eat alternative meat?
Companies are constantly developing and improving plant-based meats, and the number of new and improved substitutes will continue to increase in the years to come. So, what is the future of plant-based meat and why should we consider consuming it?
Some start-ups as well as food giants are working to improve meat substitutes by developing specific ingredients. California-based Yali Bio for instance recently raised $3.9M in funding to develop better plant-based fats that could be used to enhance the flavour of different types of plant-based meats.
New ways of processing vegan meat substitutes are also evolving, with Israeli company Redefine Meat having launched 3D-printed plant-based steaks, sausages, steaks, and lamb and beef flanks in a range of restaurants and hotels in Israel and in a number of countries around the world.
One of the major advantages of vegan meat is that unlike real meat, it is made using plant-based ingredients and offers people a way to reduce their dependency on meat products and the meat industry. On top of greenhouse gas emissions, using land for intensive animal farming is also responsible for the mass extinction of wildlife. Research has shown that farmland worldwide could be reduced by more than 75% if we were to stop consuming meat and dairy. Eating less meat by choosing plant-based alternatives is therefore a great way to improve our carbon footprint.
What are the best vegan/plant-based meat brands?
With so many options out there, we’ve put together a list of the best plant-based meat brands and types available in the UK that are sure to tickle tastebuds.
Best vegan/plant-based burgers and steaks
Many people who eat meat say digging into a good juicy burger or steak is something they couldn’t live without, but thanks to an incredible amount of innovation in this area, there are meatless versions out there that are just as, or even more, delicious. Some of the best alternatives include Beyond Meat Beyond Burger, which has one of the closest mouthfeels, textures and juiciness of a traditional beef burger. It is also soy and gluten-free, making it suitable for allergy sufferers.
Moving Mountains and Taste and Glory Vegan Burger are also good choices, as is the Heura Chorizo Burger, which has been launched on Ocado in collaboration with vegan food brand and cookbook authors BOSH!
The Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods is also a popular choice, and the brand itself has recently been predicted to overtake Beyond Meat in the alternative proteins market. The company however is still waiting for approval for its products from the UK Food Standards Agency, meaning its arrival date on supermarket shelves in this country is still unknown.
When it comes to steak, as a vegan or consumer of plant-based foods, one might not be looking for something that mimics the blood-dripping medium rare quality of a fillet mignon. There are some great alternatives to steaks however that are tasty and completely cruelty-free. The Vivera Plant Steak is a soy and wheat-based alternative, which is a good source of fibre, iron and B12. British brand Sgaia’s highly rated Vegan Steak comes in Original and Smoky Flavour.
Best vegan/plant-based bacon and sausages
When it comes to bacon substitutes, THIS Isn’t Bacon Plant-Based Rashers are certainly one of the tastiest. This product won the Food Matters Live Awards 2019 Best New Food Product of the Year award, and it isn’t surprising as to why. As soon as these rashers hit the frying pan the smell is so close to real bacon it often has meat-eaters questioning whether it’s vegan. They make a great addition to any breakfast fry-up or sandwich.
As for the other staple in a breakfast fry-up – sausages – the choice has really improved over the years. There are a range of delicious varieties available nowadays, which are a far cry from the dry, tasteless options many older vegans still have nightmares over. Some of the best vegan/plant-based sausages include Richmond’s Meat-Free Sausages – which manage to maintain the same flavour as the brand’s original pork sausage. Other good varieties include the Linda McCartney frozen Red Onion and Rosemary Sausages, Beyond Meat Sausages, and the Meatless Farm Plant-Based Hotdogs, which can both be added to a bun with some ketchup and mustard, or make a great addition to a salad, casserole, or pasta dish.
Another, and perhaps even more famous (and infamous, in some circles), plant-based sausage is Gregg’s vegan sausage roll, which first launched in-store in 2019. With many vegan and non-vegan consumers preferring the plant-based version, Iceland has since started to stock it in frozen packs of four, meaning you can now satiate your cravings at any time, all from the comfort of your own home.
Best vegan/plant-based roast
Finding a vegan roast in British pubs and restaurants is a lot easier nowadays than it used to be, with a plant-based option almost always being on the menu alongside the regular roast lamb, beef or chicken offerings. While the choice in supermarkets might not be as plentiful, there are a couple of unmissable brands. One of these is Sgaia’s Garlic & Rosemary Stuffed Roast, made from a vegan chicken-style fillet, garlic and rosemary sausage stuffing.
Another popular option is the Turk’y Roll from Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, made from a plant-based turkey alternative, and stuffed with an aromatic soysage mixture. Although based in London, Rudy’s delivers its products nationwide.
Best vegan/plant-based chicken/pork/beef strips, pieces and chunks
Strips, pieces and chunks make a quick and easy addition of protein to any salad, stir fry, curry, pasta dish, or wrap, and are a good way to get into eating more plant-based foods. Some of the most flavourful options include Oumph!’s Pulled Pork BBQ Chunks and Spiced Kebab and Vivera’s plant shawarma kebab, which make mouth-watering alternatives to the traditional lamb versions.
If you’re on the hunt for animal-free chicken, The Vegetarian Butcher‘s What the Cluck chicken strips have a satisfying chewy texture and taste especially good with a crispy finish when pan-fried. Other popular options include Heura’s high-protein Original Chunks, which also come in a pre-spiced Mediterranean flavour. More budget-friendly alternatives that are great for a big family dinner or meal-prep for the week ahead, include Tesco’s frozen Plant Chef Meat Free Chunks, as well as Sainsbury’s Plant Pioneers Meat Free Chicken-Style Pieces.
Best vegan/plant-based nuggets
Despite not being the healthiest food option out there, chicken nuggets are a simple and staple favourite amongst many children, as well as adults who are looking for a quick and satisfying meal. Quorn was one of the first brands to launch its Vegan Crunchy Nuggets in 2016, and it has remained a popular alternative to the traditional chicken nugget since. Iceland also offers some tasty options including Fry’s Plant-Based Nuggets and the BirdsEye Green Cuisine Chicken Dippers.
Best vegan/plant-based cold cuts
Cold cuts make quick and easy fillers for any sandwich, but a few years ago you would be hard-pressed to find plant-based sandwich options in the supermarket that didn’t just consist of a series of mezze dips or raw vegetables. Nowadays, a whole variety of vegan deli meats are on offer from a range of brands. These include Squeaky Bean, which do their own Spanish Chorizo Style, Pastrami Style, Italian Deli Ham Style and Milano Salami Style Slices.
Other supermarket favourites include Quorn’s Vegan Smoky Ham Free Slices, and Richmond’s Meat Free Vegan No Chicken and No Ham Slices. If you’re in the mood to splash out a little, Tofurky also offer great vegan cold cut options such as Smoked Ham Style and Hickory Smoked Turkey Style Deli Slices. If you fancy a treat, Rudy’s Vegan Butcher also offers a more expensive, but delicious selection of cold cuts. Their selection includes Fennel Pastrami, Peppered Salami, Honey Mustard Turk’y which range between £4 and £6.50, as well as a DIY kit to make your own pastrami sandwiches which costs £36.
Best vegan/plant-based mince and meatballs
Mince and meatballs are frequent favourites for big batch dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, meatball tagine, or chilli con carne. There are plenty of hearty substitutes to traditional mince including the Garden Gourmet Sensational Mince, and Plant Pioneers Mince. Some of the tastiest meatball substitutes out there are Moving Mountains Meatballs which are delicious in a submarine sandwich, and Linda McCartney’s Seasoned Vegetarian Meatballs or the OZO Italian Style Plant-Based Meatballs, which go hand in hand with a marinara sauce and pasta.
With such a wide range of options available it is clear to see that the future of food will certainly have great meat alternatives in it. Swapping to a plant-based diet, or replacing your beef burger with a vegan one can be an easy and delicious option, as well as a greener and healthier one.