4 Fast Facts About the Plant-Based Meat Trend You're Seeing Everywhere
Plant-based meat in the form of burgers, "meat" crumbles, nuggets, and more are taking permanent residence in most grocery stores these days. For anyone interested in going vegan or adding more plant protein to the menu, this is the spot to learn what plant-based meat is made out of along with other tips on adding the trendy faux meat to your diet.
The faux meat trend is so widespread you'll find Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat on fast-food menus and plant-based “ground beef” look-alikes in meat cases of large grocers nationwide. And they’re not just for vegans and vegetarians. Nearly one in four Americans is trying to decrease meat intake, with health being the top reason for the diet change in 70% of participants in a Gallup Poll. Because of the demand, the meat substitute meat market is on the path to reach $3.5 billion by 2026. Even nutritional experts are validating the plant-based meat trend can be a good, healthy option for many. Flexitarians, #meatlessmonday dabblers, and curious carnivores, read on for the scoop.
What Is Plant-Based Meat?
Obviously it's made from plants, but what ingredients actually go into a plant-based meat product? Ingredients vary brand to brand, but producers of plant-based “ground beef” figured out how to replicate the texture, aroma, and taste of meat using plant proteins derived from soy, peas, beans, rice, and wheat. Beet juice, pomegranate fruit powder, and other fruit and vegetable extracts imitate beef’s pink color. Coconut oil and cocoa butter add pockets of white marbling.
There are also a growing number of "chicken" meat substitutes that mimic the same texture and flavor in the form of nuggets, grilled strips, and patties. Again, ingredients will vary based on the brand, but these Gardein frozen crispy tenders ($4, Target) are made with a combination of wheat, soy protein, oats, and potato starch.
Related: Our Best 30-Minute Vegan Recipes
How Healthy Is Plant-Based Meat?
Plant-based meat and 80% lean ground beef both contain about 20 grams of protein in a 4-ounce patty. But the similarities end there. Most faux ground meat has fewer calories and fat, none have cholesterol (cholesterol is only found in animal products), and, unlike beef, the vegetarian meats provide some fiber. One nutritional downfall: Plant-based patties tend to have more sodium, ranging from 370 to 580 mg versus 80 mg for an unseasoned meat patty. (Though lightly salted beef is comparable to the low end of the faux meat range.)
Where to Find Faux Meat
Restaurants and fast-food chains are continuing to join the plant-based meat movement, so expect to find options on more menus in the future. If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet plan, make sure to ask how the item is prepared so you don't get any cross-contamination with real meat products.
You’ll most often find fresh faux beef next to real beef in the refrigerated meat case. Major brands like Beyond Meat offer 12- to 16-ounce bulk packages and 3- to 4-ounce patties. The price is comparable to regular meat as well. A pack of two Beyond Meat burgers at Target costs $5. Depending on the brand, real beef would cost $6 to $8 per two-pack. In large stores, you may find "meat" patties containing a blend of ground beef and pea protein, which is ideal for those trying out the flexitarian way of eating.
Does it Cook Like Beef?
The short answer is, yes, you can cook these plant-based products as you would ground beef like in our vegan chili recipe (pictured above). Look for specific tips and cooking temperatures on package labels, as not all varieties will turn that traditional dark brown color you'd expect to see in real meat. Most of these products will freeze well, just follow package guidelines for thawing. Try using these as an easy meat substitute in your favorite beef-based recipes like sloppy joes or pasta with bolognese sauce.