Plant Based Lifestyle

Vegan Meat Substitutes Explained (Tofu, Tempeh, TVP, Seitan)


In this helpful article I’m going to break down all of the different vegan meat substitutes you can make right at home. From Tofu, to Tempeh, TVP and Seitan-the world of vegan meat options is always evolving. Today I’ll walk you through step by step how you can choose healthy meat alternatives that taste delicious and are really easy to make.

Table of Contents

This list highlights the vegan meat substitutes we are discussing today. Use this table to jump to the specific part of the article that interests you most. Then come back and read the rest! I’ve ordered the meat substitutes from closest to whole foods right down to popular processed store brands.


Why Do Vegan’s Eat Meat Substitutes?

Cruelty-Free Beauty Box

Most people don’t wake up one day from a lifetime of eating the standard American diet and say to themselves, “Gee, I think today I’m going to go vegan because I don’t really like the taste of meat”.

Some people choose veganism for health reasons, some for the environmental aspects and even more people (like myself) are eating this way to reduce the amount of harm their diet causes to animals.

Vegan meat substitutes are an excellent way to keep your most favorite family meals in your life, while still eating vegan. They offer plenty of protein and nutrition to help round out a balanced plant based diet.

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Chickpeas, Beans, Lentils and Legumes

1/2 cup of red lentils and 1/2 cup of green lentils for beefy lentil barley soup

When you think of a vegan diet I have no doubt the above foods come to mind. Chickpeas, beans, lentils and legumes have been part of the human diet for over 10,000 year-since the beginning of agriculture.

They make up the backbone of cuisine around the world from Indian Dal to African Beans and Rice.

In our house chickpeas are our chicken and brown lentils are our ground beef. We enjoy other beans and legumes as well, but we tend to focus more on chickpeas and lentils.


The best way to start incorporating these foods into your diet is to simply replace the meat in your dish with your favorite legume.

Chickpeas, beans, lentils and legumes are incredibly convenient to use as you don’t need to spend extra time cooking if you prep them right!

Either use precooked varieties from a can if you’ve run out of time or simply cook them in a large batch at home from scratch. You are going to save so much money!

pssst….want to know the best way to cook beans from scratch? Check out my easiest way to cook dry beans from scratch post. No presoaking or pressure cooker required!

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Nuts (Walnut Meat)

Walnuts are a very healthy way to include those good for you omega 3 fatty acids. Coming from a whole food, you can’t go wrong!

Walnut taco meat is a very popular vegan recipe that I’ve seen floating around the web. I personally use walnut in addition to mushrooms and sometimes lentils to create a veggie ground beef.

Walnut meat is very structured, but soft, giving you recipe a delicious nutty flavor.

It has a higher caloric density as well which can be a great benefit for new vegans who are trying to maintain their weight.

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Vegetables (Cauliflower Meat, Mushroom Meat, Eggplant Meat)

It’s really amazing what you can do with vegetables alone to create a delicious meal.

Cauliflower has been super popular lately as cauliflower rice. Well, that same cauliflower can be turned into a savory main dish as a cauliflower meat as well.

You’ll notice with plant based cooking as you get better at it that the main focus is always on textures and flavors. You can mimic any type of meaty dish with the right consistency and flavor profile.

Cauliflower meat is best suited as a ground beef substitute. Think taco meat, pasta sauce, even cauliflower meatballs!

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Jackfruit is a fruit that grows in tropical regions around the world, including Africa and Asia. According to wikipedia it is a member of the fig family.

Jackfruit is an incredible meat substitute-especially for meats with a stringy texture. Think pulled pork sandwiches.

You can purchase jackfruit in a can, frozen or dried to create your own recipes at home.

I’ve also seen brands specializing in jackfruit. Take a look at Upton’s Naturals BBQ Jackfruit. I’ve tried it and it is so delicious!

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Crispy Tofu Chicken shown with bbq sauce sprinkled with green onions

I would say that the vast majority of people think of tofu when it comes to protein sources for vegans and vegetarians.

Tofu is made from soy beans. It comes in many different forms and textures that range from extra firm all the way to silken.

As a meat substitute I always use extra firm tofu. The texture is dense and it is the perfect meaty consistency to mimic chicken and fish.

You can read more about how to make the perfect Crispy Tofu Chicken here in this post.

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Tempeh is a type of tofu, meaning that it comes from soybeans. It is a fermented soybean mixture. At first thought that may not sound too appetizing, but the fermentation process develops a delicious texture and umami flavor that is sensational!

You can purchase this in store, next to the tofu. It comes in many different flavor options or you can purchase it plain and marinate it yourself!

Use tempeh for sandwiches or even as a bacon substitute.

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TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)

1 cup of dry TVP

Textured vegetable protein is also a derivative of soy.

It comes in small dehydrated granules. I love TVP because it is incredibly cheap to purchase, and you can re-hydrate it with what ever flavors you choose in less than 5 minutes.

It really is the cheapest, easiest way to replace ground beef.

I use it at home in my Grandma’s Hamburger Rotini Made Vegan.

Grandma's Hamburger Rotini is shown on the end of a fork. There is Daiya cheese on the pasta

You can purchase TVP at your local Bulk Barn (in Canada) or at a well stocked grocery store. Bob’s Red Mill is a brand I like when I’m purchasing in store or online.

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Seitan (Vital Wheat Gluten or “Wheat Meat”)

Seitan is what you would be eating when you purchase most faux meat products on the market today.

It comes from the gluten strands (protein) found in wheat and other grains. Gluten free fans beware-this might kill you hurt your tummy.

Seitan is my most favorite meat substitute because of the texture and amazing versatility it provides.

You can create a mock meat roast, cutlets, nuggets, burger, deli meat, shawarma and more!

You could even create a roast, then grind the finished product up into a ground round.

I love that I can inject whatever flavor profile I want and it comes out tasting better than the “real thing”.

Seitan is very high in protein and low in fat, which makes this a go to vegan meat replacement.

To cook seitan typically you knead the dough, wrap it tight then steam, simmer or bake it for 20-40 minutes. Every recipe is a little different, so be sure to follow the instructions of the one you will be using.

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Soy Curls

Soy curls are another product that comes from the soy bean.

They are exactly as they sound-curls that are dehydrated and can be re-hydrated with any flavor profile to mimic the taste and texture of meat.

I’ll be honest-I haven’t actually used soy curls in any of my own cooking yet. I have tasted them at different restaurants, and you can purchase soy curls ready to eat as well.

I really enjoy the taste and texture of the dishes I have had that use soy curls.

A particular dish that comes to mind is a Ginger Beef. I was totally blown away by how well they mimicked that taste and texture!

If you are interested in experimenting with soy curls, you can purchase them at some Asian supermarkets or online through amazon.

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Store Brand Mock Meats

These are some of my favorite, go-to brands for mock meats you can purchase in store.

As with any food, there are good brands out there, and there are others that are less desirable.

These brands below are omnivore approved!

Beyond Meat: Burgers, sausages and ground round. They have other products as well, but I haven’t tried them myself yet. Watch this video of our Beyond Meat at Carl’s Jr. Review

Lightlife: The Lightlife brand has been around for quite some time actually but lately it has gained popularity with the release of their plant based burger. I love their deli meats and veggie sausage. We tried it at Harvey’s and let me tell you-it’s a solid 5 out of 5! You can see what it looks like in this review we did.

Gardein: Gardein is one of my favorite go-to brands for chicken burgers, nuggets, chicken strips and turkey cutlets. Their veggie ground round and burgers are equally delicious. What sets Gardein apart is a lot of their meat substitutes are gluten free, so if that’s important to you definitely check them out.

Tofurky: Tofurky has been around since the 80’s and is probably best know for the Tofurky Roast. I personally really love their deli slices (mock turkey and chicken are the best!!!) and their sausages. Tofurky’s price point is competitive, and their products taste delicious!

Yves Veggie Cuisine: I love Yves products. They are my go-to brand for veggie burgers, veggie ham, hot dogs (for the kids), and veggie ground round. I love that they sell family packs at a very competitive rate. This really makes choosing veggie “meat” over traditional ground beef a no-brainer.

Of course, there are many more brands to choose from than what i have listed here. What’s even more exciting is that there are brand new products coming out all the time that cater to vegans and plant based eating.

There has never before been a better time to try vegan!

With the increase in market demand, brands will continue to lower their price points in order to stay competitive.

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What is the Best Vegan Meat Substitute?

Deciding on what the best vegan meat substitute is for you will mean considering factors such as:

  • What type of meat you are replacing
  • How much nutrition you want your meal to have
  • How many calories you want your meal to have

For example, if you have recently transitioned to a vegan diet and you find that you are losing weight when you would rather be maintaining, perhaps choosing a nut based meat alternative such as walnuts would be better than mushrooms.

They would both taste equally as good, however the walnuts will contain more calories per serving then the mushrooms.

Another example would be trying to replace pulled pork with extra firm tofu. Could you use the right spices to make the tofu taste delicious-sure! But it definitely will not have the same string-like consistency as say jackfruit or seitan would.

If you are wanting to eat a more whole foods plant based diet, then you might want to consider replacing the meat on your plate with less processed vegan meat substitutes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, vegetables and jackfruit.

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Is Vegan Meat Healthy?

This totally depends on the type of vegan meat substitute you are using.

Some vegan meat alternatives are closer to whole foods, such as beans, chickpeas, nuts, and vegetables. Other faux meats use plants to perfectly replicate the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of traditional meat-saturated fat included.

Although I am not a dietitian or physician I can tell you that the Canada Food Guide states we should,

“Choose foods that contain healthy fat instead of saturated fat…(and to) limit highly processed foods . If you choose these foods, eat them less often and in smaller amounts.”

Canada Food Guide, 2019

To me this means we should be eating the beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits, and whole grains much more often than the processed faux meats.

It’s important to remember that there are many ways to eat a vegan diet.

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Is Tofu a Processed Food?

Tofu is interesting because although it is processed to a certain degree, I feel like it still maintains a lot of the high quality nutrition you would find in edamame (soy beans).

Foods like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and tvp are processed to a certain degree but not so much that it completely changes the nutritional profile of the food.

These foods often will not have any added sugar, salts or fats. Often, as is the case with tofu, there are extra vitamins and minerals added during fortification.

For example, tofu tends to contain extra calcium that wouldn’t normally be found in edamame.

Again, use your own judgement, and choose the vegan meat alternatives that best suit your lifestyle and needs at that time.

Keep in mind-this can change day to day! Just because you decide you want to eat as close to a whole foods plant based diet as possible does not necessarily mean you should always deny yourself a juicy veggie burger.

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READ THIS NEXT: Why Do Vegan’s Use Black Salt (Kala Namak)

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Until next time,

Megan Kerry

Megan Kerry is a Vegan Lifestyle Educator and Licensed Practical Nurse. Her content focuses on vegan recipes and ethical living. She is a mom of four children, a long time vegan, and an even longer time foodie. She loves veganizing any and all dishes and sharing her recipes and lifestyle tips with all of you!

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