Chow Bella

Buddhist Ham, Soy Chorizo and Fakin' Bacon: A Guide to Meat Substitutes

Since the beginning of the year, going meatless one day a week has been, for us, a way to celebrate the bounty of the farmers' market, winter root vegetables, and a commitment to increasing the variety of grains in our diet.

So far we have shied away from using processed meat substitutes other than tofu, which is a more familiar meat substitute in our experience than seiten, tempeh, and TVP.

Frankly, we view meatless packages of corn dogs, crumbles, patties, "Buddhist ham," and spicy chorizo with a healthy dose of skepticism. Unfamiliar, they don't appeal to our normal food curiosity -- rather, their looks weird us out once we open the package.

If you are like us, you want to know what the heck these ingredients are before you buy, taste, and cook with them.

guide after the jump

Tofu: made from liquid extracted and curdled from soybeans. The process of making tofu is similar to cheese making. The 4 most common varieties of tofu are soft, regular, firm and extra firm. The firmness is based on texture.
Tofu is lacks its own flavor, soaking up flavor from marinades or sauces it is prepared with.
Use: soft-salad dressing, smoothies, sauces and dips, firm-cubed and marinated for stir -fry, extra-firm-cubed and marinated as a meat replacement in stews and casseroles.

Tempeh: firmer than tofu, made from soybean liquid that is extracted, injected with a spore, fermented and pressed into cakes. Tempeh has a slightly nutty flavor.
Use: holds up better than tofu in hot cooking methods; grilling, frying, steaming, and sautéing.

TVP or Textured vegetable protein: made from processed soy flour that is cooked, dried and then re-hydrated. Commonly sold in dried crumble or flake form.
Use: as a ground beef replacement and meat extender in processed food, fast food, and institutional food.

Before you go all freaky about the studies as to the harmful health effects of soy and soy based products, note there are conflicting conclusions found in the published studies of the benefits and detriments of soybeans in our diet.

Speaking of diets, those mass- produced cows and chickens you're eating are feed-guess what? Genetically modified soybeans! Our rule regarding soy beans; stick with non- GMO soy and eat in moderation.

Seiten (aka wheat gluten or vital wheat gluten): made by rinsing and washing wheat flour until all traces of starch have been removed, then formed into dough. Seiten cooks like meat, and resembles animal protein in flavor and texture. First used by Buddhist monks in China creating mock meat dishes.
Use: The dough like seiten is easily shaped and formed to resemble meat dishes. Often sold already marinated and shaped mock duck, turkey or chicken.

Qourn: mushrooms fermented in large batches and combined with egg whites and vegetable flavors.
Use: like tofu for stir fries and curries. A substitute for ground beef, chicken and turkey.

Other meat substitutes used to add rich flavor and protein to a dish: legumes (beans and peas), miso, mushrooms (particularly shitake and porcini), Nicoise or Kalamata olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed paste (tahini), and "milk" derived from coconuts or almonds.

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Carol Blonder