Elle's Top 10 Natural Vegan Meat Substitutes That Were Not Grown in a Lab

Elle's Top 10 Natural Vegan Meat Substitutes That Were Not Grown in a Lab

Looking to go vegan? There are various reasons to do so, but the transition may seem difficult. That's why we contacted plant-based recipe developer Elle (@veganbunnychef) for some of her essential meat substitutes. With them, you'll still be staying on track for your new diet, yet won't miss out on the taste and texture of your favorite proteins!

She says, "Maybe you started your vegan diet journey out of love and empathy for animals, maybe you're trying to care more about the planet, or maybe, you decided to make healthier choices for your body. Whatever the motivation, rest assured, you will not have to give up the comfort food you grew up with and continue to love. 

But before you rush off to raid the vegan meat substitutes section in your grocery store, I earnestly invite you to take another look at your pantry, where you may find plenty of natural alternatives that were not artificially synthesized and would do much less damage to your wallet at the same time."

Creator Image
Elle Luan
Filmmaker & Plant-based Recipe Developer
  • Nasoya
    Organic Extra Firm Tofu

    Elle Luan

    Is there anything tofu can not be? Believe me, the search for that answer would be very difficult. Tender, high in protein and low in fat, tofu needs no introduction in Asian households. It's gained its popularity in Western countries in relatively recent years and swept health-conscious eaters off their feet around the world. 

    Among its three available textures - extra firm, firm and silken - you can bake, fry, or grill it and turn it into basically anything you fancy, like sweet and sour "chicken," beefless stir fry, or tofu nuggets. Really, your imagination is the only limit. The hardly secret tip in handling tofu is to press it beforehand to release the excess water.
  • Lightlife
    Organic Vegan Tempeh Original

    Elle Luan

    Similar to tofu, tempeh is also a product made from soybeans. But, unlike tofu, the soybeans in tempeh are fermented, giving it a subtle tanginess in its flavor and even a nutty aftertaste. It's a perfect alternative to tofu if the texture is the issue for you - tempeh is firmer, heartier, and denser. Thus, it would probably seem more "meaty" to meat lovers. 

    Exactly because of its sturdiness, tempeh is much easier to prepare than tofu. There is no need to press it, no worries about it crumbling or falling apart, and it has less of a tendency to stick to the pan. My personal favorite way of eating tempeh is making it into tempeh "bacon" by slicing it very thin, marinating it, then frying it until the edges are browned and crispy.
  • Great Value
    Organic Black Beans

    Elle Luan

    Probably the most common and well-known plant substitute for a high protein meal without any animal products, black beans are a must-have pantry staple. Like other legumes, such as peanuts, lentils, and peas, black beans are prized for their high protein and fiber content. They also contain iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc, all of which contribute to bone health. 

    And they are, of course, a crucial component in many Mexican recipes, like tacos and burritos. But that's not all that they can do! These hearty beans make a perfect base for a vegan burger patty. 

    Drain the liquid and blend the beans with onions, mushrooms, spices, and other veggies of your choice, then either bake or grill them until they're cooked through. After that, top them off with your preferred sauces and burger fixings. This is a no-meat burger even meat lovers can't resist.
  • Thrive Market
    Organic Sunflower Seeds

    Elle Luan

    Sunflower seeds and sunflower seed meals are so underrated. First of all, sunflower meal is a byproduct of crushing sunflower seed for oil so it's a great way to reduce food waste; secondly, they would turn quite a few heads in conversations around sustainability for their drought resistance and the relatively low amounts of chemicals used to grow them. 

    It takes approximately 46 gallons of water to produce a pound of sunflower seeds. That’s a mere sip compared with the nearly two thousand gallons required for a pound of almonds. 

    They're also super allergy-friendly as they offer a rich, nutty taste but they're not nuts! And on top of all that, they have such a wonderful texture and aroma that can elevate your pasta sauce, nacho "meat," and even burger patties and meatless meatballs.
  • Companion
    Curry Braised Gluten Seitan Tidbits

    Elle Luan

    Apologies to those with gluten intolerance and allergies, but if you're cool with it, boy oh boy are you in for a treat. Seitan, or wheat meat, is made from wheat gluten by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky insoluble gluten as an elastic mass. It is, in my opinion, the closest imitation to meat. 

    It comes in all kinds of forms, such as grounded, steak, slices, and chunks, giving you unlimited possibilities with this ingredient. They can be used for skewers, as ham, turkey, or bacon, and can be incorporated into stir-fries. 

    Seitan's chewy and slightly bouncy texture is unparalleled by any other plant-based alternatives I've tried and I would definitely recommend it to a hardcore carnivore to start their plant-based journey easily.
  • Native Forest
    Organic Jackfruit

    Elle Luan

    Jackfruit is such a tropical jewel that many might have overlooked. The fruit is wonderfully sweet, juicy, and chewy when eaten fresh and when you buy it canned it has a unique stringy and layered texture that resembles shredded meat a great deal. 

    The flavor of canned jackfruit is quite subtle, so it goes well with a variety of spices. Also, the special texture absorbs and carries sauces just like shredded meat would! From pulled "pork" sandwiches, to pulled shwarma wraps, and even to chili, there are plenty of ways to jazz up your jackfruit.
  • Del Monte
    Fresh Cut Sliced Beets

    Elle Luan

    If you not only want to imitate the taste and texture of meat but also the visual effect, beetroot is that splash of color you're looking for! It has a deep and vibrant reddish pink hue. Its color is very "contagious" and it'll spread into pretty much any ingredient that you mix it with, so you can color various foods to dye it red or pink. 

    Beetroots are also packed with essential nutrients, such as fiber, folate, manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. For those of you who eat with your eyes first, I highly recommend adding beetroot into your vegan burgers as it will make the patties alluringly pink, just like a perfectly done medium-rare meat patty. It also makes the burgers moister and gives them a hint of sweetness.
  • Good & Gather
    Shelled Walnuts

    Elle Luan

    I'm probably not the only child whose mother forced them to eat walnuts. She firmly believed that walnuts are good for the development of the brain, simply because they resemble the appearance of brains. Well, among all the "mom theories", this one is actually true!

    Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. They also possess more polyphenolic compounds than any other type of nut. Both omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols are considered critical brain foods and could beneficially influence cognition. 

    Not only do they benefit your brain, but walnuts can also offer some healthy fat to a plant-based diet. Coarsely blend a handful of walnuts and mix into your bolognese sauce, "meat" loaf, burgers, or "meat" balls and they will add a lovely nutty and fatty flavor and they also help you with achieving a firmer structure for your plant-based meats.
  • Unbranded
    Fresh Portabella Mushroom Caps

    Elle Luan

    Mushrooms are a vegan's savior at barbeque gatherings. They are juicy, grillable, tender, and, let's face it, they are brown, just like the charred meat cubes other non-vegan guests would be having but minus the cancer and inflammation. 

    There are so many different kinds of mushrooms, all with different tastes and strengths. For example, for any Asian-inspired dishes, I would advocate shiitake mushrooms over any other kind. But in the specific case of barbequing, nothing can beat portobello mushrooms. 

    They come in lovely big caps that are thick enough to handle the heat on the grill or in the oven. As for seasoning, you can do as simple as a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt, to best preserve its natural flavor, or go for a little more luxurious flavor by slathering it with your favorite BBQ sauce. Grill or bake it whole, then slice it and wait for that burst of juice and flavor.
  • Good & Gather
    Organic Rainbow Quinoa

    Elle Luan

    Quinoa is one of the most famed superfoods in the world. The first thing you need to know about them is that they are a whole grain and they are a complete protein - meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. And they're not just super nutritious, they're also super delicious! 

    Cooked properly, quinoa is fluffy, earthy, and aromatic and they are a perfect replacement for whenever a recipe calls for ground meat. Quinoa taco meat is a popular example and the grain can also be used as a stuffing for enchiladas, cabbage rolls, and more.