There’s no doubt that animal agriculture is a huge environmental concern. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk is attributed to generating 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land and is responsible for biodiversity loss, water pollution and is one of the leading causes of deforestation. The learn more about the climate change issue, check out our post Climate Change: The Low Down.
With that in mind, one of the easiest ways you can reduce your own carbon footprint is to reduce your consumption of animal-based products. Of course, not everyone is willing or able to switch to a vegetarian diet overnight, let alone a fully vegan one, but there are many ways you can start to move in the right direction. Even small steps can make a big difference!
We’re going to run through a few plant-based substitutions that are widely available as alternatives to meat and animal products so you can give them a go next time you come across them.
Milk has become a staple product of our culture and considered essential to our diet. We drink it, cook with it, add it to tea or coffee and pour it over cereal, but is it always necessary to use cow milk?
There’s a huge range of milk-alternatives out there and the market has exploded with demand soaring and different products becoming available.
Popular non-dairy milks include oat, hazelnut, cashew, soy, almond, coconut and hemp. It’s also easy to make your own by soaking raw nuts, blending with water and straining. Alternative milks not only are great subs for drinks but also can be used in many recipes for cooking and baking. There’s even chocolate flavoured nut or oat milks for those who can’t live without the sweet treat!
Certain kinds work better for different recipes, so it’s good to experiment. For example, there’s an oat barista milk that definitely works best for making classic frothy coffees.
Soymilk is great for baking recipes as it can be soured with acids like apple cider vinegar and used in place of buttermilk.
One of the sticking points holding many vegetarians moving to a full vegan diet is cheese. It’s tricky to replicate the real deal, but alternative cheeses are really improving.
Now, most supermarkets have their own ranges alongside various other brands, so there’s plenty to try. They’re made using a variety of ingredients, including coconuts, aquafaba, nuts and solidified vegetable oil. It’s best to opt for one fortified with vitamin B12 and calcium.
A number of cheese substitutes are available, from mozzarella-style to cheddar and cream cheese. Recently, there’s been a surge in ‘artisan’ vegan cheese brands appearing, too.
Lastly, as a good substitute for parmesan, try using dried nutritional yeast flakes. Not only is it a great source of B12 and other B vitamins, but it has a savoury flavour that pairs well with pasta and salads.
Nutritionists and climate experts alike are warning against the consequences of the current high levels of meat consumption in much of the world, while increasing numbers of consumers are viewing the consumption of meat in a negative light. Vegan products offer many health benefits and are significantly more sustainable than meat.
Often known as “cheat” or “mock” meats, substituting meat is the main show when it comes to plant-based alternatives becoming more widely accepted and mainstream. That’s the reason for an exploding industry, with everyone from food producers to biotech companies working on passable plant-based meat options.
All major supermarkets have their own ranges in addition to big brands, and new, smaller start-up companies are contributing, too. You may have heard of Beyond Meat; a bleeding-style plant based burger. Its hype in the US now means it’s available in Tesco and some restaurants around the UK.
Then there’s the plant-based Impossible Burger, which is so incredibly realistic it’s almost ‘impossible’ to tell the difference. It’s not available in the UK yet, but they are planning to bring it here.
Sainsbury’s brought out their ‘shroomdogs’ last year, a mushroom-based vegan sausage that’s definitely worth a try as the texture is great. These are processed of course, but really convenient, easy to cook and protein-heavy.
A titan of veggie meat offering is Quorn, available almost everywhere in the UK and Europe, they use their own mycoprotein, a super-strong protein.
This one is most likely already in your kitchen cupboard, but many people are amazed at what you can do with this liquid by-product that you might ordinarily throw away.
The water from a can of chickpeas is a superb substitute for egg white. It can used to make meringues, mousses and lots of bakes like macarons, sponges and brownies. Add chickpea water to dairy-free buttercream and you’ll get a much lighter frosting. Mixed with icing sugar and lemon juice it’s possible to make a vegan royal icing.
It can even be a central ingredient in dairy free batter and sauces like mayonnaise. You may find it useful in cocktails, too – a vegan can have a whisky sour after all!
Versatile and surprisingly cheap, jackfruit is a non-processed ingredient that you’ll often find in cans, meaning you can stock up in the cupboard. Having been widespread in Asia for decades, it’s now soaring in popularity over here, with pulled pork the most common go-to recipe for this substitute, as it mimics the shredded texture so accurately.
It makes a great replacement for chicken, perhaps in a stir-fry, but can also be prepared to resemble tuna. Jackfruit tacos, gyros, and even crab cakes are all possible with this meaty fruit! It’s texture is a great replicant of meat and it’s good at absorbing the flavours you’re cooking with.
Often called vital wheat gluten, seitan is made from wheat protein. There are loads of off-the-shelf products available, but you could also make your own. With seasonings, you can flavour a dry mix made with wheat gluten flour, then create a wet mix using alternative milk, tofu and any flavourings you like (depending on your desired outcome). Mix the two together into a dough and knead well.
If you’re craving fast food, you can fry it in chunks with seasoned batter for a fried chicken substitute. For a healthier alternative, it can be roasted, grilled or oven cooked. It’s a good substitute for duck, beef, bacon and sausage, and can be paired with most cuisines, but it seems to be most popular with Asian food, having originated in China where it’s been used as a source of protein for centuries.
Alternative Creams and Yogurts
Similarly to alternative milks, there’s an array of plant-based yogurts. They’re perfect for adding to fruits, cereals, or just having on their own as a snack. They can be used for baking and cooking, too.
Similarly to other alternative dairy-free products, they’re fortified with vitamins but also filled with probiotic bacteria, meaning vegans can get some of the same health benefits as ordinary, dairy yogurt.
Coconut-based creams and yogurts are ideal in Indian and Asian curries as the flavour works well, but in some cases a blander more neutral yogurt alternative, such as soy or almond, is suitable for other recipes or toppings.
More recently, a ‘squirty’ cream has become available in plant-based form – it’s made with soy, and you can add it to puddings, bakes, desserts and drinks, like ‘freakshakes’.
Spreads and Fats
There are plenty of different dairy-free butter brands out there, from supermarket’s own to many other large and small brands.
Flora or Pure are great options for baking cakes and biscuits. For spreading on toast, a fairly small Danish brand called Naturli, which has a lovely butter-like salty taste is perfect. At the moment, it’s only stocked in Sainsbury’s. They also have a good mock mince and mock burger, too.
For pastries and crisper bakes, vegetable shortening (e.g. Trex, Stork, Cookeen) is a solid vegetable fat with lower moisture content, which is perfect for pastry.
Tofu and Tempeh
Made from soybeans, tofu is a less-processed substitute for meat as it’s a complete protein. The firm variety is best for cooking in savoury dishes, and you can use the softer types for things like tofu scramble in place of egg, or add to puddings and bakes.
There’s a plethora of different offerings available, including different flavours such as smoked tofu.
For those who might be put off by the soft texture of tofu, it’s cousin tempeh might provide a better option. Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans and is firmer in texture. It’s a great substitute for protein in Asian recipes, but also really good as ‘bacon’ if you thinly slice and fry it.
Powdered egg substitutes used to be found in more specific health stores, but a recent rise in popularity means you can easily track them down in supermarkets now, too. Some obvious uses include bakes and breakfast meals.
You can use a more simple flax egg for baking recipes by mixing hot water with flax meal. Chia seeds also work well as an egg substitute.
The innovative egg substitute brand Eat JUST offers a brilliant whole egg alternative that’s incredibly similar to the real thing!
Ever-expanding vegan trends and the number of people trying out the lifestyle are driving the rise of new and exciting substitutes, so it’s worth exploring what’s available to find the best products for you.
Hopefully there’s some interesting ideas in here for you to try out some alternatives and experiment with some new recipes. Reducing your level of meat consumption is not only great for your wallet and health – it’s good for our environment and all living things that share it with us.
It’s easy to give a few of these alternatives a go, and if you’re not ready to go full-time plant-based, starting out with a Meat Free Monday is a great way to take a first step!
Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be running through some delicious vegetarian and vegan recipes from members of our community.