Why would a vegetarian want to eat fake, faux, or mock meat?
I hear this all the time, from people around me to comments made on various Facebook groups. Unfortunately, like many other topics, the answer isn’t necessarily straightforward.
What is fake meat?
Mock meat (or fake meat, faux meat, or meat analogue) is a vegetarian alternative to many of the meats your omnivore family enjoys.
They can be vegetarian or vegan and can range from your standard “old-school” black bean burger to the hyper-realistic alternatives that have been in the news lately.
While fake burgers have been the star of the show lately, you can find vegetarian versions of chicken, turkey, fish, pork, and other versions of beef.
Their protein source varies and can include soy, pea protein, mycoprotein (from a fungus), and gluten (seitan).
Why use mock meat?
So why do people that stop eating meat switch over to using fake meat?
Ultimately, there’s a lot of reasons people use these products.
Transition to a vegetarian diet.
For many, eliminating meat from the diet is based on morals and ethics, not because they don’t like meat.
For those people, they may still crave meat but don’t want to eat it. Mock meats provide a bridge of sorts to avoiding meat.
Easy food prep
Goodness, are these products easy to prepare!
You really have to heat them up. They don’t require marinades, they don’t require searing or laborious cooking techniques, and they are unlikely to be the source of foodborne illness.
Make a salad, maybe some toast, and you have a super quick meal when time is short.
Generally, not everyone in the family is vegetarian. I’m the only vegetarian in my household and also the main cook. While I would stick to more natural protein sources (beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and tempeh), they prefer the fake meats.
So we have them sometimes, to appease both sides.
Is mock meat better for the environment than the real thing?
It’s hard to say.
Vegetarian diets are typically easier on the environment, but many of these studies were done before the rise in all of these mock meats.
You can read more about this here. But basically, when you are raising meat, you need to grow their feed, process and ship it, then feed and water the animal, making two large plots of land and a crazy amount of water.
Then you have to transport and process the animal.
But when you’re growing food with the intention to eat it, you cut out all those resources that you used to raise and then slaughter and process the animal.
So it’s pretty easy to see why eating soy, beans, whole grains, and nuts and seeds for protein would be easier on the environment.
However, most of these fake meats are pretty processed. So there is more energy and resources going into these products than, say, a can of black beans.
My GUESS would be that these products raise a vegetarian’s carbon footprint, but not as much as eating meat does. I haven’t seen any studies on this, though.
Are fake meats healthy?
This really depends.
The older black bean patties tend to have fewer calories and fat and more fiber than real beef or turkey. However, many have less protein, as well.
When choosing the products, make sure to check the nutrition facts label. You’d be surprised how many only have 2-4 grams of protein!
The newer super realistic burgers really aren’t. They have a lot of sodium and a lot of saturated fat due to their use of coconut oil. These are highly processed foods that should be considered a “sometimes” food and not a staple in your diet.
Nutrition head to head
The nutrition varies greatly between the various products. Each item is a 100g portion size. I
80/20 ground beef
MorningStar™ Black Bean Patty
USDA FoodData Central
You can see that this particular black bean patty has quite a bit of sodium, but both have quite a bit more than (unseasoned) beef. Keep in mind, a burger patty made of beef will have salt added to it, which is not accounted for in this nutrient analysis.
But take a look at the 2 vegetarian patties. The black bean patty has fewer calories, negligible amounts of saturated fat, and really not that much less protein than the Impossible Burger.
Nutrition head to head, part 2
So how does other fake meat compare to less processed sources of vegetarian protein?
Again, nutrition facts are for 100g of each product.
Extra Firm Tofu
Quorn™ Chik’n Cutlets
USDA FoodData Central
Of the items above, tempeh is the winner. It’s packed with protein and fiber and is a fermented product, potentially making it good for the gut. There is more fat, but it is largely unsaturated, and the sodium content is way lower than the fake chicken product.
Pay attention to protein content
Ultimately, we need to use these fake meat products as an easy protein source, so be wary of protein content when searching for a product.
Some, like the Gardein meatballs, have more protein and fewer calories than the neighboring real meat product.
However, others really lack in protein, having as little as 1 or 2 grams per serving. Examples include products made from jackfruit, cauliflower, eggplant, or mushrooms.
Low protein mock meats can make it seriously difficult to meet your protein needs. Again, as a sometimes food, this may be okay. However, if used regularly, it can have detrimental effects on your health.
Various brands of mock meat
This list is in no way exhaustive. I tried to include the most common products, ones that you should be able to pick up almost anywhere!
Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases if you click on the following links.
MorningStar products were my first foray into mock meats. They used to have an amazing barbecue riblet that I would use when I needed to provide my own protein source at a gathering. We recently had their meatballs, and they were okay, but Gardein’s are better.
I think their best product is their breakfast sausages, followed by black bean patties.
Probably the brand we use the least. I just don’t see this line in the stores as often as I used to.
However, members of various Facebook groups seem to have easy access to it and really like it.
Some people that are allergic to mushrooms may be allergic to Quorn products as well.
Protein that isn’t “fake” meat
Tofu, tempeh, and seitan all make for great-tasting protein without necessarily mimicking meat.
Tofu will take on the flavor of whatever you’re seasoning with, which is nice.
Tempeh can be sliced and marinated, which makes a great sandwich. Or you can crumble it to replace ground beef, which works well in tacos and shepherd’s pie.
I haven’t used seitan very much. I generally see it in “chunks” like for stew or in slices for a sandwich. I don’t usually see it marketed as mock meat, per se, but I could definitely see it being used for this.
Greek yogurt, cheese, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains also contain a lot of protein and provide individual benefits depending on what you choose.
What do you do?
How do you use these products?
Are they frequent fliers in your kitchen, or are they a “sometimes” food?
Do you have any recommendations on brands that weren’t mentioned in this article?
Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.