You’re reading From Scratch, a series deconstructing the food we eat to explore its history, variety and the way we consume it.
From jackfruit to tofu, peanut protein and soy, plant-based meat has had a history as long and varied as any other category of food.
It might not be talked about as much as the more mainstream choices, but when prepared right, meat substitutes can be elevated to the levels of their meat-based counterparts and beyond.
Although generally associated with global warming, health concerns and other current issues, meat replacements have been around for a long time. Tofu (condensed soy milk) for example, has been used in Chinese dishes for thousands of years.
But another more specific record of humans aiming to replace animal meat with plant-based alternatives was in the late 1800s, by John Harvey Kellogg.
Kellogg believed a simple vegetarian diet was best, so he came up with an alternative to beef called Nuttose.
Nuttose was made by dehydrating and cooking nuts, primarily peanuts. Kellogg chose nuts for their high protein count and the fact that they’re easily digestible in the stomach, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group.
Although Kellogg was vegetarian and invented Nuttose for religious reasons, his invention was remarkably similar to today’s practices from companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
These companies were formed in 2011 and 2009 respectively and had a hand in making plant-based meats mainstream and readily accessible.
Psychology alumna Flor Garcia is grateful for a similar company, BOCA, because when she first became vegetarian in 2010, she had no idea where to start.
BOCA and Morningstar were the meat subs in her local grocery stores, so that’s what she went with at the advice of her vegetarian brother.
“Once I found out that those meats existed, it’s really all I ate,” Garcia said.
Now, 10 years later, meat alternatives have seen a huge boom, and Garcia said she’s spoiled with choices.
Impossible Foods’ “Impossible Burger,” for example, is a newer meat substitute Garcia can vouch for as even better than a traditional burger.
“I never really liked hamburgers. I always thought they were kind of plain,” Garcia said. “But Impossible meat is just really good, so I think they really kind of perfected it.”
There are hundreds of ways to make fake meat, and many options are now commercially available from companies like Impossible Foods, BOCA and Beyond Meat. However, for the more culinarily inclined, there are also ways to make meat substitutes at home and have it taste just as good.
Dallas resident Amy Mrstik, who runs Let It Beet, makes an alternative for meat with something called jackfruit.
Like the name implies, jackfruit is a fruit relative of the fig and grows in tropical areas. Its meat is similar in consistency to pulled pork, which is why Mrstik uses it.
She said she cooks her jackfruit enchiladas nearly every week and appreciates how easy it is to transform the meat with different seasonings and sauces.
“You can like, really do some crazy things, and they will turn out almost like a direct [meat] substitute,” Mrstik said.
Jackfruit is technically exotic, she said, but it can be found at local grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market.
Jackfruit is the way to go if you’re picky about keeping the texture similar to that of real meat, Mrstik said, but if you just want the flavor, there are many other ways to go about it.
For her beer lime taco recipe, Mrstik actually uses cauliflower as the “meat,” and although it’s not fooling anybody, it tastes just fine.
You can go about replacing meat in different ways, Mrstik said. You don’t have to stay stuck in a box, like many nonvegans think.
“I definitely think it’s a spectrum,” she said.
As the years go by and the internet brings more awareness to veganism and vegetarianism, more companies can expand and offer more meat alternatives.
One example of this is when Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods to offer the Impossible Whopper in stores in August 2019.
The Impossible Whopper isn’t the best burger on the planet, but it does its job as a fast food, Mrstik said.
“The Burger King one tasted just like you’d expect Burger King burgers to taste,” Mrstik said.
But when ordering an Impossible Burger from more high-end restaurants, they always deliver, she said.
For her, it wasn’t about having a good Burger King burger anyways; it was about having the fast food option available to her and other vegans.
Seeing companies adapt to the rise in veganism and accommodate them with meat substitutes is one more step to convenience and accessibility, Mrstik said.
Last week, an Israeli startup called Redefine Meat debuted a new 3D-printed plant-based steak to replicate the taste and texture of an actual steak.
The ANIMAL Club at UTA is an organization also founded off the recent rise in veganism, but it got its start under a different name. The organization’s President Rogelio Meixueiro said the club’s mission is to promote plant-based eating on campus and in the community.
However, that wouldn’t be possible without meat substitutes, as many meetings are potlucks and include things like jackfruit and soy, Meixueiro said. As more and more companies catch on to this alternative dining option, more people can embrace vegetarianism and veganism.
Through groups like the ANIMAL Club and the mainstream acceptance of veganism, the effect of meat subs is something that’s still expanding today, thousands of years after it first came to be.