Common Soy Meat Substitutes
Here are the most common forms of soy meat replacements.
For some of you, this may be the first time you’ve ever heard about these amazing foods.
To help you, I describe each of the soy meat substitutes. Then I show what they look like with a bit more explanation when needed. And, I tell you where to find these items at your local health food or grocery store.
Once you’ve purchased them, you may wonder how long they can be kept in a refrigerator. So, I provided some suggested storage time frames for each substitute.
The last thing I did is give you a few tips for incorporating these products into your own favorite recipes by sharing some of my own easy, comfort food recipes examples.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
Textured vegetable protein is an economical meat substitute that incorporates a little extra protein into your diet – and give those meat eaters in your life something to chew on.
Basically, manufacturers deflate and dehydrate soy.
TVP is great because is very cheap (see my page “save money on groceries” for additional tips). You buy it in the bulk section usually, but prepackaged TVP can be found in the flour/baking section of a health food store.
TVP looks a little like the Grape Nuts cereal. It is light in color. You cook it by placing it in a pan and adding water until it’s all “soaked up.”
The general idea is a two to one ratio (2:1) water to TVP, i.e. double the amount of water per amount of TVP.
Most of the time, I sauté some onions (or garlic) first, then add the TVP and immediately afterwards pour the water in the pan.
Once all the water is evaporated and the TVP looks like ground turkey, it’s ready to add to your favorite taco, chili, or you can simply add your favorite organic, vegan barbeque sauce for a scrumptious sandwich.
Below you can see the difference between the uncooked (left) and cooked (right).
As far as storage, before you cooked it keeps almost indefinitely. Personally, after eight to twelve months, I throw it out. Once it’s cooked (like in the barbeque sandwich below), it keeps nicely in the fridge for about a week.
To learn more about TVP and how to make this barbeque sandwich, click here to watch the food demo.
Every non-vegan you encounter will think this is the only soy meat substitute you eat!
But aside from that, there is great reason to eat it too. Many people love this stuff. It keeps well, and it’s pretty cheap – much cheaper than meat (even your crummy cut of meat).
Tofu is always found in the cooler section of your grocery store, usually in the “meat free section.” And like I said on my
warning about soy page,
be sure to spend the dollar or fifty cents more and get the organic version. Tofu only costs a couple of bucks anyway – you can and SHOULD upgrade to the organic version.
There are three different kinds of the soy meat substitute, tofu: extra firm, firm, and soft.
For me, tofu tastes great any in any form. However, if you use any kind EXCEPT the soft variety, it tastes more flavorful if you press it.
Pressing is a painless and EASY preparation to tofu.
You don't have to press tofu. Condensing this soy meat substitute, though, tends to produce a fuller flavor and a pleasant texture – especially for folks who say they can’t get over the texture of tofu.
To press tofu, simply drain the tofu and remove it from its packaging.
Set it on a plate or pan with a high enough edge to hold the water that will be release from the tofu. (See picture below)
Then set a heavy pan (cast iron is good) or other heavy, flat, food safe object on top of the tofu as shown below.
This is the difference between pressed and unpressed tofu. Note that the pressed tofu is “smooshed” (right) compared to the tofu straight from the package (left).
How long to press tofu?
I suggest at least four hours, but over night in the fridge.
Tofu pressed for four hours will still taste good, but it will have a bit more water in it and won’t give you that pull apart, flakey-ish texture, as well as a nice light cheese curd type flavor.
(When I say “cheese curd” please understand that it doesn’t taste like cheese curds – but the taste does remind me of if it – like a hint or faint flavor of it. I want to stop some of you from running to the store to buy tofu by the cases because I said it taste like cheese curds! :-)
Unpressed tofu will be blander when not pressed – no “curdy” flavor.
I also find that unpressed tofu sticks to the pan more when you dry fry it using high temperatures – and you want to be careful when frying it in oil.
The oil tends to get a bit “angry” (if you know what I mean) and splatter everywhere when that wet tofu hits it. Then you’ll be angry because your arms will be dotted with little spray burns.
Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you mix it with.
Personally, I love this soy meat substitute dry fried (i.e. pressed tofu placed in a HOT cast iron pan with NOTHING else allowing the sides to turn a crisp dark golden brown).
I place it on my plate afterwards and drizzling olive oil and a dash of salt.
It’s a simple recipe, but the simplicity allows you to taste the flavors of pressed curd, cold-pressed olive oil, and the salt makes those flavors pop.
Types of Tofu
Soft is good for smoothies or even soups, if you want to add a little more protein or give it thick, creamy texture, and look.
To make a one serving smoothie, all you do is add a handful or two of your favorite fruit to your blender (Vita-Mix is the best), a half cup of soft tofu, a banana, two cups of ice, and enough water to allow your blender to blend to the consistency of a loose shake, i.e. thick, but not so thick that you can’t suck it up through your straw.
For those in the transition to a vegan diet from SAD diet, if you need a little sugar, you can add a tablespoon. However, usually the banana makes it sweet enough.
Firm tofu can be used just like extra firm tofu. In fact, I don’t notice too much of a difference – other than having a bit more water and a little less dense.
It is better (than extra firm) if you are doing an “egg” scramble.
To make “eggs” with tofu, start off by sautéing a few of your favorite veggies. Good ones to use are onions/garlic-add last though, mushrooms, carrots, peppers, zucchini, and broccoli. When they are about half way cooked through, crumble the tofu in the pan.
Cook the rest of the way through. To give the "eggs" a little yellow-ish color, you can add a little sprinkle of nutritional yeast and about ¼ cup of water.
Let the water boil to nothing, and you should be left with a nice plate full of veggies and “eggs.”
Extra Firm is good cubed in soups or chopping it up for barbeque and tacos as a “ground meat”.
It is especially tasty in stir fries.
To use it in stir fry, cube it, and dry fry it (fry without anything else in the pan – no oil, water, nothing but tofu). Then remove it from your pan.
Add whatever veggies you plan to have with it to your pan. Sauté those until done. Add your pan seared/fried tofu and combine them.
If you are adding a sauce of some kind, add the sauce and mix until ingredients are whole and incorporated. Then serve over your favorite style of rice.
Extra firm can also be breaded and fried or baked just like you would do with chicken or other meat.
The only difference is you dip it in soy or almond milk first (no eggs, of course), and then dip it in your crumbs (bread, corn meal, et cetera).
Then bake or fry your homemade “tofu nuggets” or “chicken fried steak” or “fish” like you normally would.
Serve on bread with lettuce and tomato, or get out your dipping sauce for great nuggets.
Cubing extra firm tofu and dry frying this soy meat substitute makes a great topping for spinach or spring mix salad, as well as a great filler for tortillas for your favorite wrap or burrito.
You don't have to fry it to enjoy it over salad. Just press it, cut it in cubes, and sprinkle over your salad.
Storing tofu is easy.
You can keep tofu in its unopened package until the date marked on the package. If it is a use by date, then it should be used by that date or a day or two after.
(Yes, I’ve eaten tofu a day or two after the “use by” date – and I think it was even better! No joke – and I’m real particular about eating stuff after those dates too. Try it for yourself.)
Once you’ve opened the package and drained the water and/or pressed it, it keeps about a week in the refrigerator.
I put it in a nice glass or plastic container and it keeps well.
If you’ve had it in the refrigerator for longer than a week, obviously do the smell test and look for fuzzy, blue mold. If there is no slime, mold or smell, then it’s good.
After tofu has been cooked, it keeps a bit longer.
Dry fried tofu keeps for about a week and a half.(After that time I don’t know, because I only make a block at a time and use it up right away.) Again, just follow the “no slime, no mold, no smell, then it’s good” rule.
Tofu keeps about as long as any other fresh food. I have a rule about keeping food in the fridge: one week.
If it’s after that length of time - some concoction I made in late the previous week out it goes.
The only exception is apples and citrus – especially oranges and grapefruit. In the fridge those fruits seem to keep forever.
Tempeh is a great food. It can look a bit scary though (see below).
Basically, it is the whole soy bean cooked and fermented. The coagulation material around the soybean (what keeps those little cooked beans together) is a unique type of mold that is good for the body.
I know what you’re thinking . . . MOLD!!!!!
That’s MOLD holding it together!!!!
Yes, but some of you eat blue cheese, right? Or other moldy cheese . . . or other moldy animal products. . . You catch my drift? It is very good for you.
In the picture below, you’ll see parts of it that look darker – or should I say “moldier.” That is normal and perfectly safe to eat.
This is the American version of the good, fermented Asian style –hence the mold acquired during the fermentation or rather curing processes.
While it is still not at all close to the Asian version, if I know I’m going to be having soy and I just had a good portion of it the week before, then I try to use tempeh.
From the looks of it, tempeh reminds me of a bunch of soaked, large sunflower seeds smashed together in a loaf.
The texture isn’t bad though. It’s got a great meaty consistency, slightly chewy.
If you’re looking for a more meaty texture, it should be cut up into bigger chunks.
Some people don’t like it quite as much because it breaks off easily.
But, it is great in ground meat recipes. Some restaurants I’ve been to have a tempeh “bacon” that is really smoke’n good, if you know what I mean.
It is a definite “must try” when you have the pleasure of dining somewhere that offers it.
If you can’t wait to try a bacon version, you can purchase it from health food stores. There are a few companies that make it.
Scroll down a bit to see an example of tempeh bacon, which also shows you the difference between uncooked and dry fried.
(Again, dry fry just means I put it and only it in a hot cast iron pan for heating. No cooking is needed, unlike meat. All I am trying to do is get the edges golden brown. Dry frying is also much healthier, just like steaming – only no water).
Below is a picture of this “bacon” tempeh. The left side is what it looks like straight from the package. The right side is after I dry fried it.
Storing tempeh is easy. Just like tofu, this soy meat substitute can be kept up to a week or more in a glass or plastic container. However, I’ve never kept it longer than a week and a half.
Recipe Tip: You can use tempeh instead of TVP in the
vegan barbeque recipe
(mentioned in the TVP section above). Instead of TVP, use two 8 oz. packages of tempeh sautéed with onions, add your bbq sauce, and viola! You have tempeh barbeque!
Many faux meat products use soy, but you have to read the package. Some of them also use vital wheat gluten, like
It also keeps just as long as tofu - about a week to a week and a half once the package is opened. (Again - if no slime, no mold, no smell, then it's good!)
One of the best ways to be incognito with your vegan diet is to show up in your break room with a vegan soy meat substitute sandwich.
The most common and best tasting types of faux soy sandwich meat substitutes are those made by Tofurkey brand. The average person eating lunch with you will have NO idea that you are not eating meat by the looks of it.
To give you an example, I have a picture of the hickory smoked Tofurkey sandwich “meat” below.
Frequently during the summer months, I make these meat-substitute sub-sandwiches (made with tofurkey) like the one below for my husband to take to work.
No one thinks any different – if that matters to you. (For some people, co-workers can be stressful trying to “change them back.”
This way you can avoid addressing it, since it really does look like meat.
If you still aren’t convinced, check out this soy meat substitute sandwich!
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