Plant-based proteins are on the rise. Most prominently, plant-based burgers can be found on restaurant menus, fast food menus, and can be purchased in grocery stores.
Even pizza gets the vegetarian treatment by swapping out pepperoni and sausage for plant-based versions, and many establishments now offer pies topped with non-dairy cheeses to appeal to vegan customers. More and more Mexican restaurants now boast vegetarian/vegan options for tacos, burritos and enchiladas. Go-to taco toppings such as cheese and sour cream can be tossed aside in favor of fresh avocado and pico de gallo.
Naturally, the shift in favor of adding more plant-based options to menus keeps vegetarians and vegans happy, but non-carnivores are far from the only group of consumers driving this popular trend. A recent Nielsen survey found that 39% of Americans are trying to eat more plant-based foods. This is partly due to personal health concerns as more people are seeking to limit the amount of meat they consume on a regular basis to combat obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But there are other factors that steer consumers towards plant-based diets that include social consciousness and activism. Nielsen data shows that 62% of consumers are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns, and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein.
These consumers are not exclusively vegan or vegetarian, as a new type of diner is making waves in the plant-based world—flexitarians. Flexitarians are actively trying to consume less beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and dairy for health or environmental reasons but do not adhere to a strict meatless lifestyle. It’s these customers, mostly millennials, who are currently leading the retail shift to more plant-based menus, and according to Nielsen, these flexitarians regularly purchase alternative meat products while also still occasionally buying meat.
The good news is there isn’t any need to remove meat from your menu and replace it with plant-based alternatives. Simply adding a couple of meatless options to your current menu is a great way to capture some of the essence of the flexitarian movement. Here are a few of the more popular plant-based options, along with some kitchen inspiration to incorporate into your cooking.
One of the most popular non-meat options on menus today is soy-based tofu. Tofu comes in a variety of textures, from silken and soft to extra firm. Try making a hearty, vegan miso-based ramen with vegetable stock, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and, of course, plenty of swirly noodles. Offer a tofu scramble for brunch with hash browns and toast, in addition to more traditional scrambled eggs. A Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, which is typically filled with pork, is the perfect vehicle for replacing any meat-based filling with marinated and grilled tofu. Tofu bites tossed in Buffalo sauce are an excellent vegan alternative to standard hot wings and are just as easy to make.
Made from fermented and pressed soybeans, tempeh is tofu’s little cousin. Tempeh’s texture and firmness make it highly versatile when it comes to cooking. Tempeh can be ground, stir fried, steamed, or grilled. Marinated, grilled tempeh makes a great salad topper in place of chicken, and it pairs particularly well with avocado, either on a salad or in a sandwich or wrap. Smoked tempeh strips are a nice alternative to bacon in a meatless bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Add sliced avocado for a little extra touch. Top a plant-based cheeseburger with smoked tempeh for a meatless bacon cheeseburger. Try grinding tempeh and using it to make plant-based meatballs for pasta, polenta or a meatless meatball sub.
General Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
The most popular plant-based meat alternatives are ground patties made from soy, potatoes, vegetables, mushrooms, or some combination thereof. A carefully chosen mixture of plant-based foods is what gives these products a beefy texture and taste. Ground plant-based meats are most popular when used to make burgers of all sizes and flavors combos, but they can also be used to make spaghetti sauce, chili (great for making chili cheese fries or nachos), tacos, even gravy for biscuits. Essentially, plant-based protein can be used much in the same way as ground beef in cooking, so there’s no limit to culinary options.