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Meat substitutes: The best plant-based alternatives!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 238 views

A juicy steak made from seitan or a crispy bratwurst made from tofu: meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular in Germany. The selection on the supermarket shelves is also increasing accordingly. Read here which meat substitutes are available, how healthy they are and how their carbon footprint is.

Meat substitute: what is it actually?

They look like schnitzel, burger patties or sausages, but are vegan or vegetarian: the selection of meat substitutes has grown steadily in recent years. They are made from soy or wheat protein, legumes, vegetables and animal proteins that come from eggs or milk.

Choice is getting bigger

In 2020 alone, companies in Germany produced almost 39 percent more meat substitutes than in the previous year. There are a number of reasons why the choice is growing: Vegans and vegetarians like to use the alternatives to have a meat-like meal. The meat imitations also provide them with valuable proteins.

In the meantime, however, the so-called flexitarians are also increasingly buying tofu, seitan and co. Flexitarians include all people who still eat fish and meat – but only rarely and selectively.

Learn more about flexitarians here .

Curiosity and animal welfare are the main reasons

According to a Forsa survey commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, half of those surveyed stated that they had bought meat substitutes one or more times. The main reasons include curiosity, animal welfare, taste and climate protection.

Whether the meat imitations are healthy and climate-friendly cannot be said in general. Rather, it depends on the individual product – origin, processing and which additives have been added are decisive.

Meat alternatives at a glance

There are currently around 60 different brands of vegan and vegetarian substitute products in Germany. EU-grown soybeans are among the most commonly used ingredients. They are used to make tofu and tempeh , for example . A regional and sustainable meat alternative are meat imitations made from sweet lupins.

Here is an overview:


Tofu is a classic meat substitute product in Germany. It is made from the liquid of soybeans. The albumen is thickened with a coagulant and pressed out until it has a quark-like consistency. It is dewatered and pressed into blocks.

Natural tofu only has a slight taste of its own and can be processed into savory or sweet dishes – depending on the spices. It is suitable for grilling and roasting. There are also pickled and smoked versions on the market.

Silken tofu is creamier than plain tofu. It can be used to make vegan desserts or cakes. You can also find sausages, burgers and tofu patties in the supermarket counters.

This meat alternative is easily digestible, contains all the important amino acids and is characterized by a high mineral and vitamin content. It is also relatively low in calories at 124 calories per 100 grams.

With tofu, pay attention to the flavor enhancers, preservatives and flavorings it contains. It is also worth looking at the origin. Soybeans are now not only grown in Brazil, Canada and the USA, but also in Austria and southwest Germany. As a result, the climate balance is friendlier.

If it’s organic tofu, there’s a good chance it’s non-GMO.

Learn more about tofu here .


Tempeh is a protein-rich and filling meat substitute. It is made from whole soybeans. They are washed, soaked and boiled. They are fermented with the help of noble molds. As the fungal cells entwine around the soy mass, tempeh gets a firm structure and a nutty taste.

This meat substitute can be sliced, seared or fried. It is rich in fiber, has a high proportion of minerals and vitamins, and is cholesterol-free.

As with tofu, the following applies to tempeh: pay attention to the ingredients and the origin. Those who like to shop sustainably are better off buying organic products.

Learn more about tempeh here .

Soy Meat (Textured Soy Protein)

Soy meat, also called textured soy protein (TVP), is also derived from the soybean – but with far more industrial effort than tofu and tempeh. For TVP, the protein is isolated from the soybean, defatted and then structured under high pressure. This gives it a meat-like consistency.

This meat substitute is available as a dry product in different variants – for example, chopped up and seasoned as a minced meat substitute. Flavor enhancers and thickeners are often used for this purpose.

A look at the packaging is also helpful for soy meat. Seals indicate that the products have been grown organically.

I argue

Seitan is often used in Japanese cuisine. For him, wheat flour is rinsed with water until the starch is gone and only wheat protein (gluten) is left. At the end of the manufacturing process, seitan has a meat-like consistency. It can be used well for searing and grilling – for example as a schnitzel.

This meat substitute is low in fat and cholesterol. However, vitamins and minerals are lost due to the complex production process.

Wheat is grown both conventionally and organically and regionally. For the climate balance it is better to buy organic products. You can also make seitan yourself.

This meat substitute is unsuitable for people with celiac disease.

Learn more about seitan here .


Quorn is a brand name. This meat substitute is produced using the fermented mold mycelium Fusarium venenatum. The protein-rich pilymycele is filtered off for the meat substitute and processed further – with chicken protein, among other things. Therefore, this meat substitute is vegetarian, but not vegan. They may also contain allergens from milk or gluten.

Quorn is used to make sausages, steaks and chops. The company that makes Quorn in the UK has certified that Quorn emits 90% less carbon than beef.

In 2019, the manufacturer initially withdrew its Quorn offer in Germany. Quorn is currently only available in German-speaking countries from a Swiss supermarket chain.

sweet lupins

Sweet lupins belong to the legumes. So-called lupine tofu is made from the lupine seeds. As with traditional tofu, the protein-rich seeds are soaked in the production of this meat substitute, pressed out and the liquid obtained from them thickened. Sausages and schnitzel, for example, can be made from lupine tofu.

Sweet lupins contain many minerals and trace elements – from potassium to calcium, iron and magnesium. Lupine cultivation is also considered to be very sustainable.

Certain lupine proteins are allergenic and trigger severe allergic reactions.

Learn more about lupins here .

Another meat substitute made from legumes

In addition to lupins, there are other legumes that are used to make meat imitations. Peas, black beans and chickpeas are high in protein and can be processed into sausages, burgers or schnitzel.

Legumes also contain valuable vitamins and minerals. Your carbohydrates are also mostly made up of starch. This is digested slowly, which means that the blood sugar level only rises slowly. Legumes are also low in fat and contain indigestible fiber that keeps you full for longer.

Learn more about legumes here .


The jackfruit is the largest tree fruit in the world and comes from India. Their pulp has a meat-like consistency. It tastes neutral to slightly sour and is well suited for curries or vegan pulled pork.

In contrast to tofu and the like, it has a low protein content and contains little iron. However, it is rich in starch, calcium and fiber. It also contains vitamin C , magnesium and potassium.

The jackfruit has traveled long distances. It is therefore advisable to buy at least organic goods. This ensures that the meat substitute was grown under controlled conditions.

Learn more about jackfruit here .

How healthy are meat substitutes?

The average meat consumption in Germany is too high. According to the EAT Lancet Commission, 15 kilograms per person per year is healthy and sustainable. In fact, meat consumption in Germany is four times as high.

Meat substitute products are therefore basically a good way to change something. However, whether the imitations are also healthy depends on the origin, the ingredients and the processing of the individual product.

The Institute for Alternative and Sustainable Nutrition (IFANE) compared 80 meat alternatives with 27 meat products for the Albert Schweitzer Institute. The result was:

  • Saturated Fatty Acids : Only 10 percent of meatless products were too high in unhealthy fatty acids. In the case of meat, on the other hand, this was the case for almost two thirds of the products.
  • Protein : In terms of protein content, the vegan organic alternatives performed very well and were sometimes even ahead of the meat products. The protein quality of soy products is comparable to that of beef, milk and egg, the study found.
  • Additives and Flavors: In this category, it depends on the individual products. The organic meat imitations contained no added aromas and on average fewer additives than the meat products tested.
  • Energy and fat : Vegan products very often had a lower energy content than meat products. The calorie content was almost always medium to high. The meatless alternatives scored medium for total fat, but more than half of the meat products scored negatively.
  • Salt: Almost all products tested contained too much salt.

In conclusion, it can be said that there is nothing to prevent eating meat substitutes in moderate amounts. This is especially true when they replace meat and sausage. The meat imitations usually contain high-quality vegetable protein, less fat and saturated fatty acids than the originals and are cholesterol-free.

But also keep in mind: If you are on a meat-free diet, you can also cover your protein requirements with whole grain products, nuts, vegetables and potatoes. Meat substitutes are not mandatory.

Meat substitute: You should pay attention to this when buying!

In 2018, the German Food Book Commission laid down guidelines for when foods are considered vegan or vegetarian. In addition to this labeling, the products must also show which ingredient or ingredients replace the components of animal origin – for example “vegan mince based on peas”.

Pay attention to the following things when shopping:

  • Choose products that are low in fat.
  • Pay attention to the salt content: a good guideline is less than two grams per 100 grams.
  • The shorter the list of ingredients, the better.
  • Organic products contain no flavor additives and fewer additives than conventional goods.
  • Pay attention to the origin of the products. By buying organic products you support sustainable agriculture and can be sure that they come from Europe.

How good is meat substitute for the climate?

It depends on the origin whether the respective meat substitute is climate-friendly. It is sustainable, for example, to buy tofu made from local soybeans or lupine seeds. With organic soy products, greenhouse gas emissions are also 50 percent lower than with conventionally produced ones.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) found in the study “Meat of the Future” that plant-based meat alternatives use up to a tenth less greenhouse gases, water and land consumption compared to beef.

It is also worth taking a look at the manufacturer. How sustainable does he act overall? Is the production of meat substitutes only good for its image or is sustainability its basic orientation?

If you want to protect the climate, it is best to buy regional and organically controlled products – this applies to meat substitutes as well as to all other foods.

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