Several new companies are poised to change the world by introducing omnivores to meat substitutes that look, taste, and bleed like the real thing. These options also make vegetarians and vegans happy — and they’re a far cry from meat substitutes of the past.
Yes, faux meat has come a long, long way. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes, created the first “meatless meat” — called “Nuttose” — using peanuts in 1896. He then invented cereal as a substitute for egg and meat breakfasts. Kellogg was a Seventh-Day Adventist, most of whom are vegetarian; and in 1933, other Seventh-Day Adventists founded a company called Loma Linda that makes soy and wheat faux meats, many of which come in cans packed with water. Gardenburgers, which helped propel the veggie burger to the mainstream, were born in 1981, and Tofurkey — creator of sliced “turkey” and holiday roasts — was created in 1995.
The latest additions to the world of artificial meat include the plant-based creations of brands like Gardein, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Beyond Meat began supplying Whole Foods with their vegan meat in 2013, and Impossible Foods will soon be offering up their juicy vegan hamburger that bleeds “plant blood,” simulating bloody flesh. These new meat substitutes propel the industry to a new level of realism with their flavor, consistency, and taste. They also don’t contain the high sodium levels of meat substitutes of the past.
Not all of the latest meat substitutes come in highly processed form. Take the jackfruit, mainly grown and consumed in Asia but also found in parts of Africa and Brazil. David Staackmann, owner of Upton’s Naturals, discovered jackfruit in a Nepalese restaurant and now sells it in a variety of flavors, including barbecue. Jackfruit tastes like pulled pork and absorbs the flavor of whatever is used to season it. It’s also fat-free and full of fiber and potassium. Jackfruit grows extremely well on the tree’s branches and trunk, and just one fruit can weigh up to 100 pounds. It’s a low-maintenance food source that requires less fertilizer and pesticides than other produce, making it a highly sustainable option.
Meat alternatives are also spreading well beyond grocery aisles. A meat-free company called The Vegetarian Butcher has many European locations, and offers tasty meat alternatives that are dead-ringers gastronomically and visually for meatballs, burgers, tuna, sausage, bratwurst, and different chicken dishes. The Herbivorous Butcher in Minnesota also offers dairy-and meat-free savory foods full of nutrients and protein. And more vegan butchers are guaranteed to pop up soon.
Even decidedly mainstream restaurants are increasing their non-meat options. Taco Bell has a new Vegetarian Certified Menu with twenty-six vegan ingredient options. A vegan-friendly pizza chain called Uncle Maddio’s is opening thirty new restaurants. Veggie burgers are now standard fare, and among the long list of vegan-friendly options at chain restaurants are Au Bon Pain soups and chili, the Cheesecake Factory vegan cobb salad, Chipotle Mexican Grill Sofritas, and Denny’s Build Your Own Burgers (using the vegan patty, of course).
Vegetarians and vegans comprised 1% of the U.S. population in 2009. In 2014, the number had increased to 5% — that’s sixteen million people. One reason is that we have learned about the horrific treatment of farm animals, and the environmental effects of factory farms. But another reason must surely be the vast improvement and increased availability of plant-based foods. While Kellogg’s Nuttose peanut concoction was described as “a cheesy mass which readily absorbs into the digestive fluids” (it was reportedly popular with the sanitarium crowd), today’s options reap the rewards of decades of research and cutting-edge technology. They taste very, very good.