Protein Swap: 5 Easy Vegan Meat Replacements

Eleanor King

It’s now well-known that vegan living tends to be a healthier alternative to traditional omnivorous diets for both your body and the planet. Whether you are trying to up your meatless Monday options, cut back on your carbon footprint, or are looking for a new protein for your plate, swapping out meat for vegan protein is a great option. 

When it comes to choosing a vegan replacement, it’s important to keep in mind a few key preferences: texture, cook time, flavor profile, and adventurousness. Not all vegan meats are made equal, and each requires their own preparation to get the most out of them.


Tofu

One of the most popular vegan protein options is tofu. This longtime staple in Chinese and vegan cooking is prepared by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into a block. Originating in China, this soy-based protein has been eaten there for over 2,000 years and is often referred to as “bean curd.” Tofu comes in a variety of textures, including silken, firm, and extra firm. 

On average, one 3.5-ounce serving of tofu, or about a third of a block, offers about 70 calories, 8 grams of protein, and all of the essential amino acids. Depending on the preparation, tofu is a great low-calorie vegan protein source that can be transformed into a variety of dishes. Our favorites include Tofu Chili with the Works and Tofu Edamame Scramble

Tempeh

A relative of tofu from Indonesia, tempeh is made from soybeans that have been pressed and fermented. This earthy vegan protein is made by a natural culturing and fermentation process that binds the soybeans into a cake form with a special fungus. A good source of probiotics and amino acids, tempeh is a complete source of protein.

Typically, one 3-ounce serving of tempeh offers just over 150 calories, 15 grams of protein, and higher levels of manganese and iron. Tempeh can be added to stir fries, chopped up and sauteed in a sauce, and even battered and fried. Our favorite recipes include Fried Tempeh and Arugula Sandwich and Lemon Herb Tempeh.

Seitan

Known to some as wheat gluten, seitan (pronounced say-tan) is a protein made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. Wheat flour dough is washed with water, removing the starch, until all that remains is the sticky gluten mass that is then cooked and shaped into a block. Seitan has gained popularity in recent years for being a soy alternative and for its versatility.

A 1-ounce serving of seitan typically offers just over 100 calories, 21 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat. This makes it one of the leanest vegan protein options on the market.

Jackfruit

One of the lesser known plant-based meat replacements is jackfruit. Jackfruit is a large hanging fruit that is native to parts of India and Malaysia. Its exterior is light green and very rough. The fibrous flesh is what is used in recipes and is naturally sweet with a subtle banana flavor. After the pods are removed from the fruit and shredded, its texture is similar to that of shredded chicken and its flavor is easy to meld with curries and aromatics. Canned jackfruit is the easiest way to get this unique fruit on the table, as it comes pre-sliced and partially cooked.

Jackfruit is lower in protein than other vegan meat replacements but is unique from other fruits in that it offers 3 grams of protein per serving. One cup of sliced jackfruit provides 155 calories, is rich in fiber, and is full of an abundance of antioxidants.

Plant-Based Beefy Grounds 

With the rise of plant-based living, many companies have created meat substitutes that are meant to mimic the taste and texture of beef. Popular options include Impossible Burger, Beyond Beef, Lighlife Grounds, and Uncut Burger. These beefy options are an easy switch for those looking to serve something more familiar. 

The downside of many of these beef substitutes is that they are higher in calories than many of their vegan competitors. Most popular burgers and grounds offer 200–250 calories per serving, close to 20 grams of protein, and high amounts of salt and fat.