The Clog’s power ranking of meat substitutes

photo of sliced tempeh
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As a vegan of almost five years, I’ve come across a variety of different forms of meat substitutes. They made my transition into a plant-based diet easier as they satisfied my cravings for beef and chicken. I’ve eaten some substitutes that taste like the real thing, but there are many that don’t cut it. Because of my expertise as a long-term vegan, I’ve compiled a list of the definitive ranking of different meat substitutes on the market from worst to best.

5. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are amazing; I love them in my chop suey, on my pizza and in my sandwiches. But they are not the best ingredient to imitate the taste and feel of meat. Many restaurants use huge portobello mushroom heads as their plant-based patty for veggie burgers and we must stop this idea from spreading further. The burger just tastes like a soggy mushroom on a bun with lettuce and tomato. Mushrooms are great and all, but they’re too mushy to be considered fake meat.

4. Tempeh

Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans and can be found near the tofu at the grocery store. Although it beats out mushrooms, tempeh is really hard to get right. I’ve only tried cooking it once and it was a bigger disaster than my love life. But the tempeh I’ve ordered at restaurants is flavorful and well-seasoned. It doesn’t mimic meat that much, but it can taste really good. Tempeh as a meat substitute just has a learning curve.

3. Beans and Lentils

Beans and lentils on their own are not good substitutes. However, a lentil/black bean patty is to die for. The patty can mimic a regular beef one and can also be used to make meatballs. But I especially love the black bean food items from Taco Bell. The black bean chalupa and Crunchwraps aren’t exactly like their meat counterparts, but they will get you hooked from the very first bite. 

2. Tofu

I keep on raving about tofu because of its versatility. Crumbled tofu can create “vegan” scrambled eggs, bacon bits and ground beef. Some people have also turned it into taco meat and popcorn chicken. Tofu can act as a sponge and absorbs all the flavor you give it, also crisping up easily too. But sometimes, tofu doesn’t have the same texture as meat in specific dishes. However, the incredible variety of ways to prepare soy protein makes it second on this list.

1. Vital wheat gluten

Vital wheat gluten is the main ingredient used in various kinds of fake meat. But every item that has this ingredient is breathtaking. It mimics the texture and taste of meat, which makes me think it’s as close as a vegan will get to the real thing. Even my nonvegan friends love VWG! I have never found anything that tops this, showing why it takes the number one spot.

There you have it! Hopefully, this ranking shows what vegan proteins to try. Some honorable mentions include jackfruit and textured vegetable protein.

Contact Nicholas Clark at [email protected].