Meat alternatives and substitutes sometimes get a bad rap. Their proximity to the real thing is viewed with suspicion and used to cast aspersions on vegans and vegetarians. The question always arises around these kinds of products of why we try to replicate something if there is an ethical aversion to it. This is a poor argument of course, because meat substitutes remove the ethically questionable portion out of the equation, but this line of questioning also ignores food’s cultural significance – that a meal’s importance can extend far beyond its components, and the source of those components. A meal can root itself in our consciousness and become a part of our identity. It can trigger nostalgia, bring us into the comfort of the past, and connect us to our family and friends, even when they’re no longer with us. Leaning into so called “fake meats” as a vegan or vegetarian is often not about trying to replicate the meat itself, but rather the experiences and joy surrounding a certain dish.
Meat substitutes also play a pivotal role in helping people make the transition to veganism or vegetarianism or even just to consume less meat. The good news is, with so many high-quality options on the market, there’s never been a better, and easier time to try and reduce your meat consumption. It’s an embarrassment of riches right now, and this list only scrapes the surface of the available options.
When I think of Heura’s products, I always think back wistfully to the time I spent in Madrid and Barcelona (where the company was founded), basking in the beautiful weather, walking in the warm winter sun, with a full stomach, a sangria buzz and palette satisfied by copious amounts of Heura’s Mediterranean Chick’n. Heura products are plentiful in Spain, and other parts of Europe, but less so in North America (Good Rebel carries them in Toronto), but they’re worth seeking out. Their product line includes plant-based chicken, beef, pork, and fish.
The meteoric rise of Beyond Meat is the stuff of vegan legends. The company that was founded in 2009 has swiftly become synonymous with meat alternatives. With the launch of the Beyond Burger in 2014 became one of the few exclusively plant-based companies to break into the mainstream. They set their sights big, had an excellent marketing strategy, and a healthy amount of venture capital, but it’s their incredible product that has been the key to their massive success. The product line also continues to expand beyond burgers and sausages, with Beyond Steak being the latest iteration to hit the shelves.
Yves Veggie Cuisine
One of the OG meat alternative manufacturers, Yves has been around for more than twenty years, and has undoubtedly helped many burgeoning vegetarians and vegans transition into a meat-free lifestyle – me included. Even with all the many competitors that have come on the market since, many of Yves’ products remain favourites of mine, and their veggie ground round is, in my opinion, still one of the best meat alternatives out there.
Another veteran of the meat alternative game, Tofurky, has been crafting quality plant-based products since the 1980s. While there are still most well-known for their flagship roasts, Tofurky produces more than 35 products, including burgers, deli slices, and my personal favourite, chick’n. They are also proudly GMO free, and have a long, established history of animal and environmental advocacy.
During my first few years of veganism, I couldn’t get enough of Gardein’s Crispy Chick’n Patties. They were readily available in all grocery stores, and I had them for dinner at least once a week. It was one of those products that made the transition so much easier. Since then, Gardein’s line has continued to expand, and the quality remains top-notch. Other favourites are the Crispy Tenders and the BBQ wings.
Like many delicious things, Gusta originates in Montreal. The company started a small start-up in 2014, and then began circulating at vegan food festivals before establishing a base at the Marche Jean Talon. That was where I first discovered them, but then Gusta secured national distribution with several large grocery store chains like Metro and Loblaws, and they’ve continued with their upward trajectory ever since. Their product line has also expanded from their flagship plant- based sausages to include vegan cheeses, pates, and even tuna.
Impossible Foods rose to prominence alongside Beyond Meat and has been a worthy competition in the meat alternative market. The company is also a strong advocate for sustainable eating practices and environmental preservation and education, and they’ve even partnered with Beyond Benign to create a free curriculum for 3rd and 4th grade students about sustainable sciences. Their product includes beef, nuggets, and sausage.
TMRW is a Canadian company that produces an impressive range of meat alternative products that have become a personal staple and favourite of mine. A lot of plant-based companies compete over who can produce the most meat-like texture, and it seems sometimes like the focus is put on replication over flavour, but TMRW has emphasized both elements in their products. Try out their Spicy Tangy Buffalo Protein Shreds to see what I mean. – it’s a powerful flavour punch, with a dense, chewy structure, the perfect consistency for burritos, tacos, a pizza topping and more.
Lightlife has been around for a long time. In fact, the company was initially started in 1979 as Tempeh Works and was responsible for releasing the first Tempeh product into the mainstream market. They’ve since become one of the top selling vegan meat alternatives, and their Smart Dogs are the best-selling plant based hot dog in the U.S. It took them a bit longer to reach Canada but the good news is that they’re now widely available here in most major supermarkets.