Vegetarians and those looking for substitutes for meat have more options than ever. Countless brands sell replacement burgers, hot dogs, bacon and steaks. The ingredients vary among products and brands. Common meat substitutes include soy, beans and lentils.


Tofu is the first thing most people think of when they think of meat substitutes. Versatile tofu can absorb other flavors and take on various forms. Tofu is coagulated soy milk and shares several qualities with other soy proteins. In its soft, or silken form, tofu can be used for sauces, desserts and as a substitute for scrambled eggs. Firm tofu may be baked, fried, grilled or sauteed. For maximum flavor it should be marinated before cooking, and for a more meaty texture it can be frozen for up to a day and then defrosted.


Another soy-based meat substitute, tempeh is made from whole soybeans, rather than soy milk. Tempeh usually comes in the form of a dense cake. With a flavor described as “nutty” and “meaty,” you can use it in stir-fry, stews and chilies. Its dense nature also allows it to maintain its form well, meaning it holds up nicely to most standard cooking methods.

Textured Vegetable Protein

Textured vegetable protein is made from defatted soy flour. TVP generally comes in small, dry chunks and must be rehydrated before use. It has a long shelf life.
TVP excels at taking on both the flavors and textures of meats, particularly ground beef and pork.


Seitan is wheat-based and is regarded as the substitute that most resembles meat. Seitan absorbs whatever flavor it is exposed to. It’s commonly used to make vegetarian chicken-style dishes.


Legumes include beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. While generally not used to mimic the flavor or texture of meats, their high protein content makes them a dietary substitute for meat. Legumes are commonly used in salads, rice dishes, soups and stews.