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slicing tofuIn 2022, consuming less meat is more than a dietary choice. Many people abstain from meat products to help move us toward more sustainable food production. At the same time, these products are a protein source, typically with less calories and cholesterol.

As such, the options have diversified in recent years. Tofu and soy protein are now joined by plant-based sources and jackfruit. If you’re interested in making this adjustment to your eating habits, understand the differences between popular meat substitutes.


Although used in Asian cuisine for centuries, tofu has been incorporated in western diets as far back as the 1980s. Tofu is made with soybeans that are soaked before pureed and filtered. This liquid is heated until it solidifies, where it’s formed into blocks.

As a meat substitute, tofu offers a number of benefits:

  • It’s a low-calorie source of protein.
  • It easily absorbs flavors from sauces, spices and marinades.
  • It can be prepared in a number of ways, from fried to scrambled or baked.
  • Products may be fortified with calcium, vitamin B12 and iron to increase its nutritional profile.
  • It offers a vegan replacement for eggs, meat or cheese in a number of dishes.

Soy Protein

Soy protein products are based after popular meat versions. You’ll find soy burgers, meatballs, ground soy, nuggets, sausages and cutlets. Some are prebreaded and flavored, while you can season others however you choose. In all cases, these products start off as dehydrated soy that’s combined with water, then formed into a number of shapes.


Tempeh is a meat substitute made with fermented soybeans. Bacterial cultures help break down the protein present, then what’s left is formed into firm cakes. This process results in a soy product that’s more accessible for the human digestive system, supplies about 20 percent of your recommended daily protein content and is a significant source of fiber.

Traditionally used in Indonesian cooking, tempeh has gradually found its way into western diets. Unlike tofu, tempeh tends to have a stronger bean taste and may be prepared with grains.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

If you’ve ever purchased camping or backpacking food, you might have seen textured vegetable protein or TVP among the ingredients. Textured soy protein (TSP) is another name for this meat substitute.

It’s creation goes back to the 1960s and is a form of dehydrated soy that needs to be rehydrated. This meat substitute starts with soy flour sourced from soy oil production. Once you rehydrate it, TVP can be used as a ground beef substitute. Servings offer high protein content with little fat.

Seitan or Wheat Protein

Another long-time staple in Asian cuisines, seitan is a product of the protein contained in wheat. First, wheat flour dough is washed to remove all starch and the remaining dough is boiled, baked or steamed.

This results in a denser, chewier meat substitute that’s ideal for sausages and cutlets. It may also be sold in chunk or strip form – to be flavored. Seitan is high in protein, lower in fat and carbohydrates and offers a source of iron.

Plant-Based Sources

We’re continuing to see more “plant-based” meat substitutes on the market. Aside from the typical soy sources described above, these may use one or a combination of the following:

  • Lupins: A high-protein legume that’s ideal for creating sausages and cutlets.
  • Spelt: A grain source that’s roasted and dried after being harvested. Offering B vitamins, magnesium and phosphorous, this source may be sold as a grain or pre-formed into patties or meatballs.
  • Pea Protein: This increasingly popular source of protein and iron is combined with vegetables and other ingredients to form patties, sausages or may be sold in ground form.


Beans offer a rich, meaty flavor that can further be seasoned a number of ways. A reliable source of protein, many varieties also include amino acids, calcium and iron.

Black beans, chickpeas and lentils are commonly used as meat substitutes. While beans can be eaten as is, they’re also pureed to make hummus or ground to form black bean burgers.

Mushrooms and Fungus

Mushrooms can be chopped, grilled, broiled or fried to add umami flavor to a dish like portabella mushroom cap burgers. You may also come across products made with mycoprotein, sourced from fungus Fusarium venenatum. Mixed with other ingredients, this source is treated like soy or a plant-based option and can be shaped and seasoned to resemble patties, chunks or strips.
Colony Diner offers an extensive menu to accommodate the tastes of all diners, including our vegan options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Visit our Wallingford restaurant or place an order to try any of these delectable, meat-free choices