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The Ultimate Guide: How to Get Vegan Recipes to Taste Like Meat?

Today we're discussing easy tips you can follow to make your recipes mimick flavors you remember from your favorite meat dishes.

And these tips actually work.

Why do vegans eat things that taste like meat?

As more people adopt a vegan lifestyle, the challenge of finding satisfying and delicious substitutes for meat dishes has become increasingly important. While many people choose to go vegan for ethical or health reasons, the taste and texture of meat is often a difficult thing to give up. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and creativity, it is possible to create vegan recipes and dishes that mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat dishes. In this article, we will explore different ways to achieve this and provide tips and recipes for making vegan dishes that taste like meat.

thanksgiving vegan recipes that taste like turkey
chinese pork dumplings vegan
vegan burgers that taste just like beef

Tip #1: Use Meat Substitutes

Fake meats, a term used for manufactured products sold in your local market or grocery store that mimic meat but are vegan, tend to carry the flavor of a classic dish but have been processed to better match the texture, fat content, and protein values as meat. Not all vegans wish to eat fake meat, but it can be very easy or accessible compared to home-cooking in some options. For those needing an easier transition or a meal that can make everyone in the household happy, fake meats can easily help. They can be made from a variety of ingredients, including soy, wheat, and pea protein. But not all meat substitutes are manufactured or considered a "fake" protein. Some common meat substitutes include:

  • Tofu: Tofu is made from curdled soy beans and has a neutral flavor, making it an excellent meat substitute as it can taste like anything you season it with. It can be baked, grilled, or sautéed and can be used in a variety of dishes, such as stir-fries, tacos, and burgers. The texture can be changed according to the recipe so it can be as soft as soft cheese or become tough like pork or duck meat. Tofu is around 2,000 years old and is considered a whole food.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh is a block of fermented soy beans that has a nutty, earthy flavor and a firm texture. It is a good source of protein and can be marinated, grilled, or sautéed. It is an excellent meat substitute for dishes such as kebabs, stews, and curries. Tempeh was created in Indonesia and is estimated to be hundreds to one thousand years old.
  • Beans, Lentils, Seeds, Nuts: A classic choice for a meat substitute would be to simply use beans, lentils, seeds, and/or nuts, on their own or in a combination. Each variety has their own unique flavor and texture that, over time, you'll learn to preference in a recipe to mimic certain flavors.
  • Seitan: Seitan is made from wheat gluten and has a chewy, stringy-like texture that is similar to meat. It is high in protein and can be flavored with herbs and spices to mimic the taste of meat. It is an excellent meat substitute for dishes such as sandwiches, stews, and roasts.
  • Plant-based burgers: Plant-based burgers are becoming increasingly popular, and many brands now offer burgers that look, taste, and even "bleed" like meat. These burgers are made from ingredients such as soy, pea protein, and beet juice, and can be grilled or pan-fried.
  • Fake meats: A variety of manufactured products have been created to mimic meats such as meatballs, salmon filets, fried shrimp, fish filets, and even caviar. Each are made from a variety of ingredients, read each package for specific ingredient information.
  • Mushrooms: Mushrooms have a savory, umami flavor and a meaty texture, making them a great substitute for meat in dishes like stews, stir-fries, and burgers. You can also use them to make a vegan version of mushroom "bacon" by slicing them thinly and marinating them in a mixture of soy sauce, maple syrup, and liquid smoke before baking. Mushrooms are an absolutely great substitute for fried chicken, scallops, or even sushi.
  • Jackfruit: Jackfruit is a fruit that has a fibrous texture and neutral flavor, making it a popular meat substitute in vegan cooking. When cooked, it has a pulled-pork-like texture and can be seasoned with spices like chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika to create a flavorful vegan "pulled pork" sandwich or taco filling.

Tip #2: Use Umami Seasoning

Umami is a Japanese term referring to the fifth taste, alongside sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. It is often described as savory but is a complicated flavor which can't be traced back easily to its parts and instead is tasted as a whole. This flavor is found in many animal-based products, including meat, fish, and dairy. However, there are plenty of vegan-friendly ingredients that are also rich in umami flavor. These can be used to enhance the savory taste of vegan dishes, making them more meat-like in flavor.

Some of the most popular umami-rich vegan ingredients include mushrooms, soy sauce, miso, nutritional yeast, tomatoes, and seaweed. Incorporating these umami-rich ingredients into your vegan dishes can help enhance their savory taste and make them more meat-like in flavor. Experimenting with different combinations and cooking methods can help you find the perfect balance of flavors to create delicious, meat-free meals.

Umami Seasoning Cheatsheet

Here are some recipe combinations that mimic the seasoning and flavors of your traditional meat dish. Feel free to download and share this infographic!

How to make vegan recipes taste like meat
  • Eggy: When you want a dish to have flavor as if it had an egg in it. To do this, keep black salt on hand. Kala namak is the specific name, black salt is the common term for it. Black salt doesn't look black at all, it's a very fine grain salt in the shade of a dull pink. The salt is rich in sulphur and that is why it tastes similar to eggs, specifically egg yolks. The first few times you use this, go easy on it, trying ¼ of a teaspoon and working your way up once you get used to it. Perfect for quiche, deviled "eggs", and tofu scrambles.
  • Italian Meatballs: Fennel Seeds and Oregano perfectly turn any ball of protein into a good meatball. Adjust the amounts of each to suit your palette and the recipe.
  • Grilled: Use liquid smoke before, during, or after in your dish to mimick the flavor of having cooked food over a grill. Not all liquid smoke are made the same, so make sure you use liquid smoke that is naturally made from concentrated smoke in liquid versus made from chemicals. Liquid smoke goes perfectly onto any pan-seared vegetable, in collard greens, and splashed onto naan.
  • Smoked Salmon: When thinking of smoked salmon, the flavor feels fatty and subtle, but is definitely a tad fishy with a hint of wood smoke. Here, you could use liquid smoke, but we recommend using smoked salt instead. Smoked salt is naturally wood smoked salt which you can buy in a variety of wood flavors. Rub the salt into your vegetable you're using in your recipe, which generally tends to be carrot. Another reason to use salt, is that you can roast the carrot surrounded by the salt as well. To finish the taste, use a variety of different types of kelp (aka, sea vegetables or seaweed) to create that fishy flavor. We tend to use a combination of flaked nori and dulce flakes. If you don't want the seaweed changing the color of the food, put the seaweed into a sauce that is served with the vegetable.
  • Sushi: See the above notes about smoked salmon as most sushi you make will likely use the above techniques! For a smoked salmon roll, place your roasted carrot with smoked flavor into the roll with a line of sauce that is mostly a combination of nori and dulce mixed into something like vegan mayonaisse. For a spicy tuna roll, marinade dried mashed tofu with a chili sauce, some mayonaisse, and lots of seaweed. Always, add a dab or serve with soy sauce or tamari.
  • Eastern Umami: It'll be achieved by a combination of 1:1:1 white miso, seaweed, and ginger added to your vegetable stock. We tend to use 1 tablespoon of each into a 2 serving recipe for a stir-fry, soup, or noodle dish. While this isn't exactly traditional to use miso in every recipe, the miso definitely helps to add a certain flavor that matches Chicken and helps heighten the flavors in the entire dish using a natural, healthy form of salt. The seaweed helps elevate the dish by complicating the flavors and replaces the need for anchovy in a lot of Korean or Thai dishes. And ginger helps compliment these flavors and can be found traditionally used in many Eastern recipes.
  • Western Umami: When thinking of most European umami, this combination is what we think can be used in most stews and deep sauces. The combination of bay leaves, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic really crate a base for a lot of your favorite dishes. Recipes like chicken soup or beef stew perfectly match these flavors to use as a base for your favorite meat-based soups and sauces.
  • Cheesy: To achieve a cheesy type of flavor for your favorite cheese-based recipe, use blended roasted red bell peppers and nutritional yeast. Your mac n cheese will certainly be elevated and compliment your favorite plant-based protein.

Tip #3: Use Bold Spices and Marinades

Another way to make vegan recipes taste more like traditional meat dishes is to use bold spices and marinades. Spices and marinades can add depth and complexity to vegan dishes, making them more flavorful and satisfying. Allowing the meat substitute you are using to have time to "soak up" these flavors will deepen the taste of your dish. Here are some spices and marinades to try:

  • Smoked Paprika or Liquid Smoke: Smoked paprika has a smoky flavor that is similar to smoked meats. It can be used in a variety of dishes, such as chili, stews, and roasted vegetables. Liquid smoke is a natural flavoring that is made by burning wood and condensing the smoke vapor into a liquid. It can be added to marinades, dressings, and sauces to give vegan dishes a smoky-woody flavor.
  • Barbecue sauce: Barbecue sauce is a tangy, sweet sauce that is often used in meat dishes.
  • Mustard: Mustard has a bold flavor that can add depth to vegan dishes. It can be used in marinades, dressings, and sauces.
  • Curry powder: Curry powder is a blend of spices that is commonly used in Indian cuisine. It has a bold, complex flavor that can add depth to vegan dishes, such as stews, curries, and soups. Every curry powder tastes different as it is a blend of spices from different sources, even the same curry powder from two different companies will taste drastically different from each other. Try many of them to find your next pantry-staple to keep stocked in your kitchen.
  • Teriyaki sauce: Teriyaki sauce is a sweet, savory sauce that is often used in Japanese cuisine. Vegan teriyaki sauce is available in many stores and can be used in dishes such as stir-fries and noodle bowls. Teriyaki sauce is generally a 2:2:2:1 ratio of soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar, which is then cooked and reduced until it becomes thicker.

Here are some 5 Star recipes that taste like meat:

Black Bean Sausage Patties

1) Black Bean Breakfast Sausage

This recipe tastes just like your favorite breakfast sausage used to. Just like the tips advise above, this recipe heavily relies on smoked paprika, tomato, and fennel to recreate the traditional recipe. This version is also gluten-free and can be made into patties or links.

Grandma's Veggie Dumplings

2) Grandma's Veggie Dumplings, Vegan Gyoza or Potstickers

Using a mixture of different vegetables and mushroom powder, the texture is varied and the flavor is a deep savory flavor. While this uses tofu, it mimics pork or chicken overall in this dish. This is a wonderful recipe - an instant classic, traditional recipe worth making double to freeze for later!

Vegan Jackfruit BBQVegan Jackfruit BBQ

3) BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich

We're a little partial to North Carolina BBQ, so when we saw this 5-star recipe, we knew it was a winner. It's a simple bbq sandwich, made to mimick slow-cooked pulled pork, traditionally only served on a bun or with coleslaw. Nothing fancy, just delicious! I love it a lot because it allows you to create your own sauce or just use your own favorite store-brought bbq sauce.

Teriyaki Veggie Balls

4) Teriyaki Veggie Balls

Made-from-scratch teriyaki veggie balls using barley and textured vegetable protein smothered in teriyaki sauce. This recipe is so nice because the mixture of ingredients in the meatballs mimics the traditional dish so well.

Vegan Breakfast Sandwich like an Egg McMuffin

5) Vegan Breakfast Sandwiches with "Eggy" Tofu

This recipe recreates a classic McDonald's Egg McMuffin but makes it vegan, using the Black Salt technique mentioned above to make the tofu taste like egg. You'll find this recipe is even easier to make than the original and of course, loads more healthy!

Mushroom, Lentil, and Potato Pie

6) Mushroom, Lentil, and Potato Pie

This comforting savory pie combines mushrooms, lentils, potatoes, onions and thyme in a creamy gravy topped with a flaky, tender pastry.

Chili Sin Carne

7) Chili Sin Carne

Flavorful and full of protein, this chili sin carne is cooked using a slow cooker until perfection. Features a mix of 3 beans, TVP, vegetables, herbs, and spices that somehow combine to taste and feel exactly like the traditional mixed beef.

Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

8) Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

Mushrooms, lentils, TVP, root vegetables, spices, and herbs, come together in a savoury vegan meat pie with a super flaky crust that is a veganized version of the French meat pie.

Creating vegan dishes that taste like traditional meat dishes can be a challenge, but it is possible with the right ingredients and techniques. By using umami-rich ingredients, bold spices and marinades, meat substitutes, cheese substitutes, and experimenting with different cooking methods, you can create vegan dishes that are flavorful, satisfying and delicious. Whether you're a vegan trying to replicate your favorite meat dishes, or a meat-eater looking to incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet, these tips can help you create satisfying vegan dishes that are reminiscent of traditional meat dishes.

It's important to note that taste is subjective, and what works for one person may not work for another. Don't be afraid to experiment and adjust recipes to your personal taste preferences. With a little creativity and experimentation, you can create vegan dishes that are just as satisfying as traditional meat dishes.

Another important consideration is the nutritional value of the vegan dishes you create. While it's possible to make vegan dishes taste like traditional meat dishes, it's important to ensure that they are still providing your body with the nutrients it needs. Make sure your meals include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein sources like legumes, tofu, and tempeh. Consulting with a registered dietitian can help ensure that your vegan diet is well-balanced and meets your nutritional needs.

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