Anyone who wants to be a vegan has to come to terms with the fact that they will no longer be able to consume meat. At least meat that has originated from animals. You only have to wander down the freezer aisle – and increasingly the chilled section – in any supermarket, however, and you will no doubt find numerous vegan meat or “fake” meat options that act as vegan-friendly alternatives to all kinds of meat products from burgers to sausages to bacon.
In this article, we’ll give you an introduction to the massive variety of vegan meat options that are available in the UK and we’ll explain what they are made from and whether they are better for your health and the environment than conventional animal meat products (in general they are, on both counts!).
What Is Vegan Meat?
To clarify further about what we mean by vegan meat or fake meat, we are talking about the products that are made from plants (or at least non-animal ingredients) that aim to imitate the look, texture and taste of meat that comes from animals. Clearly, some products achieve those goals better than others, but we are focussing on products based on their aim to achieve those goals of meat imitation rather than their success.
Note that in this article we are not going into detail about lab-grown meat, which many people consider not to be vegan. We are also not talking about direct vegan alternatives to meat, such as celeriac steaks instead of beef steaks or lentils instead of minced beef. We will cover both these categories of “meat” in summary below but then in far more detail in dedicated articles elsewhere on the site.
In this article, we’ll focus on vegan meat and the various vegan products made from them. Note that we have individual articles that focus on everything you might want to know about some of the specific vegan meat products, including:
There are, of course, other vegan meat products, such as vegan steaks, vegan “pulled pork” or “duck”, vegan sausage rolls and vegan chicken nuggets, among others, but we’ll focus on the most popular products here to give a general introduction to vegan meat. Note that most of the conclusions we draw here (specifically in terms of the health and environmental comparisons between animal meat and vegan meat products) can be expanded to just about any vegan meat products, not just those mentioned.
What Is Vegan Meat Made From?
There are various ingredients that go into most vegan meat products but here we will focus on those that make up the bulk of the burger/sausage/other meat product alternative. Note that most will also include various (often natural) flavourings and colourings, as well as stabilisers or thickeners, while many are also fortified with vitamins (often vitamin B12) and minerals (such as iron).
Note that many products incorporate more than one of the main ingredients mentioned below so our examples will mainly be products that contain more of the stated ingredient than others, though others will just contain a significant quantity of the stated ingredient.
|Pea Protein||Pea protein is one of the favourite ingredients of some of the best vegan meat producers out there. Highly nutritious and environmentally sustainable, pea protein is relatively easy to manipulate into a form that gives a meat-like texture.||Beyond Meat Beyond Burger, Meatless Farm Plant-Based Sausages, Beyond Meat Beyond Mince, OmniPork Mince|
|Soy Protein||Soy protein (or soya protein as it is sometimes called) is one of the most common main ingredients for vegan meat products due to its versatility, relatively low cost and availability.
There have been some concerns about soy production causing deforestation, but most of that soy is used for animal food and many vegan food producers use only sustainably sourced soy. It is often listed as “rehydrated textured soy protein” or similar in the ingredients.
|Meatless Farm Meat Free Mince, Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages, Richmond Meat Free Sausages, THIS Isn’t Bacon Plant-Based Rashers, Vivera Plant Mince, Linda McCartney Vegetarian ¼lb Burgers|
|Wheat Gluten (Seitan)/Wheat Protein||Clearly not a good option for those following a gluten-free diet, wheat gluten nonetheless provides a protein-rich base ingredient to vegan meat products that is favoured by some producers. It is able to soak up added flavours well and fries and grills quite nicely too (hence it works well for vegan bacon products).||VBites All Day Bcn Vdeli Rashers, Upton’s Naturals Bacon Seitan, Taste & Glory Vegan Sausages, Sgaia Original Steaks|
|Potato Starch||Often used as an additional ingredient alongside more protein-rich options to bulk out vegan meat products, potato starch (or similar modified starches) are commonly found ingredients in things like vegan sausages.||Meatless Farm Plant-Based Sausages, Beyond Meat Beyond Mince, Beyond Meat Beyond Burger|
|Rice Protein/Rice Flour||Vegan meat products will often include rice protein alongside pea protein as together they provide a complete protein that includes all the essential amino acids (as we discuss in our vegan protein powder article).
Rice is another readily available crop that has much less of an environmental impact than meat production, but it is not the best compared to other plants, such as peas in terms of carbon dioxide produced per serving.
|OmniPork Mince, Beyond Meat Beyond Burger|
|Fungus (like mycoprotein)||Created from a microfungus that has a particularly high protein content, mycoprotein is the basis of Quorn and was developed in the 1960s as a potential food source. See our Quorn article for more details.||Most Quorn products (though note that not all Quorn products are vegan friendly as many contain egg or milk-derived ingredients)|
|Fava Bean Protein||A small number of vegan meat products utilise fava bean protein as their main ingredient as it offers many of the advantages that pea protein brings.||Heck Vegan Italia Burgers, Pro Fusion Organic Protein Chunks Pea & Fava|
Vegan Meat Vs Lab-Grown Meat
Some people use the terms “vegan meat”, “fake meat” and “lab-grown meat” interchangeably. And, there are other terms thrown into the mix that can add further confusion, such as “clean meat” or “cultured meat”. But there is a key distinction between lab-grown (or cultured) meat and what is usually thought of as vegan meat.
The difference is that lab-grown meat uses animal cells (usually acquired by taking a biopsy from a live animal) from which to grow its meat. Vegan meat, on the other hand, does not use any animal cells and instead uses some kind of plant (such as pea or wheat protein) or fungus (such as mycoprotein) from which to construct their vegan meat products.
The confusion appears to have arisen because many of the vegan food companies – such as Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat – have developed their products in labs, experimenting on different types of proteins and other ingredients as they attempt to produce plant-based products that look and taste like real meat. On the other hand, something like Quorn is essentially grown – or cultured – in vats from cells of the microfungus Fusarium venenatum. Given that this “meat” is indeed cultured and other products are grown or developed (at least initially) in labs, it is easy to see why people are not 100% sure which term applies to which product.
In addition, lab meat, by which we mean “real” meat grown from cells rather than farmed, is an industry very much in its infancy. Such meat is barely available at present, though that will change in the years ahead. If you want to learn more about this, even though few claim it is suitable for vegans, we have a separate article on lab-grown meat elsewhere on the site which explains a little more about the science of how it works.
This feature also delves into the ethics of the processes used and whether the “lesser of two evils” of only using some animal cells outweighs the potential harm or sometimes death caused to animals by some companies who have developed (or are attempting to develop) lab-grown meat.
Vegan Meat Vs Vegan-Friendly Meat Alternatives
When we talk about vegan meat alternatives or substitutes, we are really talking about non-animal products that can be used as a replacement for animal meat. We are not, in this context, talking about processed vegan meat products like vegan burgers or vegan bacon. We are really talking about vegetables, fruits, nuts or fungi – in fact anything edible that doesn’t come from animals – that can be used in place of meat in any number of situations.
These will often not really resemble meat per se (though they might do in some cases) as they will not have been coloured or flavoured or generally processed to do so. Rather they are simple alternatives to meat rather than imitations of meat. The exception could be seen to be tofu, which is processed to a degree from soy milk but is still a relatively “raw” product in its own right. Because of this and its more natural processing, we would group it with the completely unprocessed options rather than with the vegan meat products.
Examples of vegan meat substitutes include the following:
- Portobello mushrooms instead of beef burgers
- Lentils instead of mince in chilis or Bolognese sauce
- Jackfruit in fajitas or instead of pulled pork in burgers
- Celeriac steaks/red cabbage steaks instead of beef steaks
- Ground nuts and seeds and chopped veg mixed together to make burger patties instead of beef steak mince
- Sliced tofu (bean curb made from soy) in stir fries or curries instead of chicken or other meat
- A carrot instead of a hot dog… okay, maybe not!
There are some advantages of simply replacing meat products (or even vegan meat products) with vegetables, fruit or mushrooms. Firstly, you know exactly what it is made of and you know it does not have loads of potentially unhealthy ingredients added. For example, a celeriac steak is simply a peeled and sliced hunk of celeriac, perhaps with a little seasoning, whereas most vegan meat products include various flavourings, stabilisers, thickeners and colourings. A slice of veg is also almost certainly going to be a lot healthier than conventional meat products and will almost always be lower in fat and higher in fibre.
Where to Buy Vegan Meat
These days it really isn’t difficult to find vegan meat products. A search for “vegan meat” on the Tesco site, for instance, returned 116 items at the time of writing (and we expect this to increase in the coming months and years), while the same search term for Sainsbury’s returned 389 results. There are even more options if you shop at a specialist vegan supermarket, such as TheVeganKind Supermarket, which have literally thousands of vegan meat products available.
Of course, not everyone chooses to shop in the big supermarkets and there are plenty of smaller shops, such as local convenience stores, that don’t stock too many vegan meat products. But even in relatively small grocery shops in small towns and even villages, it is rare to find no vegan meat options at all, even if they only have the odd bag of vegan Quorn or some Linda McCartney sausages.
Finally, for some of the more specialist or high-end vegan meat products, some people choose to order directly from the producers through their website; but generally, the likes of TheVeganKind Supermarket or GreenBay Supermarket have such extensive ranges that this isn’t usually necessary.
Does Vegan Meat Taste Like Real Meat?
There is always going to be an element of subjectivity when it comes to assessing whether vegan meat products taste like the animal meat items they aim to replicate. Having said that, though, some are so far off the mark that you wonder whether they are trying to imitate meat at all – we’re thinking of some of the vegan bacon options here!
Having said that, though, there are a handful of vegan meat options that really do look and taste and even have the texture of real meat. The Beyond Burger, for instance, is loved by vegans and non-vegans alike. Many would say that it tastes more like meat than many of the heavily processed real meat burgers you could encounter in the supermarket freezer aisle! The less widely available option from Impossible Foods is also superb.
Check out our individual articles looking at specific vegan meat products (from burgers to bacon to mince) and also our upcoming taste test features to find out more about the products that most resemble real meat… and those which absolutely don’t (but which might still be tasty in their own right).
Vegan Meat Vs Animal Meat: Health & Nutrition
There is an increasing body of evidence that the consumption of meat, and particularly red and processed meat, is not good for a person’s health. As stated by Cancer Research UK, who certainly know about these things, “processed meat can cause bowel cancer” and “eating lots of red meat can also increase the risk of cancer”.
There have been numerous studies that have found links between red and/or processed meat consumption and a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and premature death in general, with organisations including the World Health Organisation, the US National Institute of Health and many others suggesting people should limit their consumption.
So, it is widely accepted that red meat is not particularly good for you, to say the least. But how does vegan meat compare when it comes to the nutritional make-up of the products? In truth, it very much varies depending on what item and brand you are looking at. Often the vegan meat products that are closest to animal meat in appearance, taste and texture tend to be less healthy than some of the other vegan meat products that are focused more on offering simply a tasty and healthy alternative to meat. And, some reduced-fat animal meat products are not as bad as some other meat products.
We’ll give a couple of examples below to give you a snapshot comparison between similar vegan meat and animal meat products. But it’s always worth checking the labels of the products you are thinking of buying as occasionally vegan meat products can be higher in fat than you might expect.
Nutritional Values of Burgers (Animal Meat vs Vegan Meat)
|Typical Values (Per 100g)||Birdseye Original Beef Burgers*||Tesco Beef Burgers*||Beyond Meat Beyond Burger||The Meatless Farm Plant-Based Burgers|
|Energy||1229kJ / 297kcal||1106kJ / 266kcal||1047kJ / 252kcal||957kJ / 230kcal|
* Denotes products made from animal meat
Nutritional Values of Sausages (Animal Meat vs Vegan Meat)
|Typical Values (Per 100g)||Wall’s Thick Pork Sausages*||Richmond Thick Pork Sausages*||Richmond Meat-Free Sausages||Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages|
|Energy||1111kJ / 268kcal||1001kJ / 240kcal||610kJ / 145kcal||637kJ / 153kcal|
* Denotes products made from animal meat
Nutritional Values of Bacon (Animal Meat vs Vegan Meat)
|Typical Values (Per 100g)||Waitrose Triple Oak Smoked Streaky Bacon*||Tesco Finest Unsmoked Dry Cure Back Bacon*||THIS Isn’t Bacon Plant-Based Rashers||Finnebrogue Naked Without The Oink Bacon Rashers|
|Energy||1082kJ / 261kcal||1079kJ / 260kcal||685kJ / 164kcal||828kJ / 200kcal|
* Denotes products made from animal meat
Nutritional Values of Mince (Animal Meat vs Vegan Meat)
|Typical Values (Per 100g)||Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus Steak Mince*||Waitrose Essential British Beef Mince*||Linda McCartney Vegemince||Vivera Plant Mince|
|Energy||871kJ / 209kcal||1187kJ / 285kcal||722kJ / 171kcal||463kJ / 110kcal|
* Denotes products made from animal meat
Of course, we haven’t covered every possible meat and vegan meat product so the comparisons above are just to give you an idea of how some of the most popular products compare. But taking these figures into account (and others we’ve noticed across a range of other products), when it comes to comparing vegan meat with animal meat we feel confident in reaching the following (albeit fairly general) conclusions:
- Vegan meat products are almost always higher in dietary fibre than the animal meat product they are attempting to imitate – Example: Vivera Plant Mince has 5.8g of fibre per 100g compared to 0g of dietary fibre in Tesco Finest Aberdeen Angus Steak Mince.
- Animal meat products are often considered as containing more protein, but many vegan meat products are either not far behind, on a par, or even more protein-rich than the foods they are attempting to replace – Example: THIS Isn’t Bacon Plant-Based Rashers contain 25g of protein per 100g compared to 19.2g of protein per 100g of Tesco Finest Unsmoked Dry Cure Back Bacon.
- Animal meat products tend to be higher in fat and particularly saturated fat – Example: Wall’s Thick Pork Sausages contain 18g of fat and 7.7g of saturated fat per 100g compared to 6.2g of fat and 0.9g of saturated fat per 100g for Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages.
- Animal meat products tend to contain more calories than their vegan meat counterparts – Example: Richmond Thick Pork Sausages contain 240kcal per 100g while Richmond Meat-Free Sausages contain 145kcal per 100g.
As mentioned, these are rather general statements, but reading the nutritional information on the label of any products in the supermarket will give you a good idea of how healthy – or otherwise – they are. The traffic light labelling system can also give you a quick at-a-glance indication about the energy content, fat content, saturated fat content, sugar content and salt content.
You will quickly find that vegan meat products tend to give fewer red lights than animal meat products, especially for saturated fat. The one exception can sometimes be salt so this is worth checking if you are trying to reduce your intake, although there is great variation and many vegan meat products are low in salt.
Vegan Meat Vs Animal-Derived Meat: Environmental Impact
Anyone who has watched one or two of the many very good vegan documentaries will no doubt be aware of the massive environmental impact of meat farming. From the destruction of rainforests to make way for cattle ranches to the staggering volume of greenhouse gases burped and farted out of cattle, there is little doubt that farming animals for meat is environmentally idiotic. This is widely recognised by many consumers, as well as environmental organisations, such as Greenpeace, NGOs, scientists and, increasingly, national governments too.
We won’t delve too much into the many environmental reasons for veganism in this article, but suffice to say, vegan meat is far better for the environment (or at least far less bad for the environment) than is meat that comes from animals.
Conclusions: Vegan Meat Is Here to Stay
Vegan meat comes in all shapes, sizes, flavours, colours and textures and you can find a vegan meat alternative to just about any animal meat product that exists (you can even get vegan black pudding these days!). We’ve noted how vegan meat is not the same thing as lab-grown meat or indeed simply vegetable substitutes for meat products (such as a Portobello mushroom in a bun instead of a beef burger). We’ve also looked at the varied ingredients that make up the bulk of vegan meat products, most of which come from plants.
Following that, we’ve shown that, in general, vegan meat tends to be healthier than animal meat and in particular it is lower in saturated fat and higher in dietary fibre, two things that can lead towards a more healthy lifestyle. Vegan meat – like vegan food in general – is also better for the environment than animal meat, with much less water usage and much lower emissions of greenhouse gasses.
But a lot of that will count for nought for many people if vegan meat doesn’t really taste like meat, or indeed if it just doesn’t taste very nice. We are happy to report, however, that there are many vegan meat products (covering most categories including burgers, sausages, bacon and mince) that are both good imitations of their meat counterparts and/or that taste very nice in their own right.
Of course, this is a fairly subjective assertion, but we urge you to try some of the vegan meat products we feature on our site and then you can make your mind up. If you can find a vegan meat alternative to bacon that you like, you can give both your health and the environment a boost, whilst also ensuring fewer pigs have to suffer and die. What’s not to love about that?