There are many reasons people may choose to avoid eating soy or limit their soy intake. One such reason includes studies that have found a certain compound in soy, when eaten in large amounts, may increase the risk of breast cancer in those who have a predisposition to it, due to family history. Another reason may be that while a soy allergy isn’t as common as some others, it is still one of the most prevalent food allergies. So for many, eating soy simply isn’t an option.
If you’ve recently stopped eating meat or have been a vegan or vegetarian for many years, you’ve likely discovered that many meat-free foods contain soy. It seems to be the fix-all ingredient the herbivore community landed on as a way of getting enough protein. So what are you to do if soy upsets your stomach? Or you’re afraid of the potential risks associated with it? Or you just don’t like the stuff? There actually are some great soy-free meat substitutes. You just have to know where to look, as they aren’t as easily found as the soy burgers in the frozen food aisle.
When it’s time to get your faux meat crumbles, sausages, or patties, there are some key ingredients to look for that will be filling. Here are delicious soy-free meat alternatives.
Best in noodles: Garbanzo beans
Found in many vegetarian burgers and spread, garbanzo beans add great texture to patties and crumbles. One cup offers an astounding 39 grams of protein, so they can certainly fill you up and make sure you don’t miss any meat. There are many simple ways they can serve as the protein to your dishes – add them to a pesto pasta dish instead of shrimp, or add them to a vegetable noodle soup in place of chicken.
Best as a tofu substitute: Seitan
Seitan is made entirely from the main protein found in wheat called gluten (so it naturally won’t be right for those with gluten sensitivities). It has a dense, chewy texture that some compare to steak, and if you’re looking for something to use in place of firm tofu, this is a good pick. Just half a cup has over 75 grams of protein, so you don’t need much of this stuff to feel full. It’s an easy addition to wraps, as it tastes good chilled as well as warm.
Best pulled pork substitute: Jackfruit
Two cups of jackfruit will give you about six grams of protein. It’s also loaded with fiber. But one big reason vegetarians love it is that, when it’s been slow-cooked and simmered in a favorite sauce, it takes on the consistency of pulled pork or pulled chicken, and will taste great in all of the same dishes you might put those meats in.
Best for soups: Lentils
Lentils are another good base for your veggie burgers if you’re trying to skip the soybeans. One cup gives you 18 grams of filling protein along with 16 grams of digestive-boosting fiber. You can opt for a lentil chili instead of a meat one, or skip the meat in your next curry dish and just add lentils. If you’re a vegetarian but not a vegan, you can opt for a cheesy lentil enchilada bake instead of a meat one (of course vegans can make it too, with a nut-based cheese).
Best for meat crumbles: Nuts
Nuts are often found in fake meat crumbles. In fact, if you’re wanting to make your own crumbles for things like chili, tacos, Bolognese sauce, or sloppy joes, there is a very popular thing called walnut “meat” that’s rather simple to recreate. The base is simply walnuts, mushrooms, and soy sauce, then you can get creative with your seasonings.
Best for vegan sausage: Wheat gluten
We touched on wheat gluten when talking about seitan, but wheat gluten is the base of many great faux meat products. Half a cup is very high in protein and offers other important vitamins. If you want veggie burgers, vegan sausage, or crumbles that don’t use soy, look for those with a wheat gluten base. Again, this is not a viable option for those with gluten sensitivities.
Best for baking needs: Flaxseeds
Looking for “eggs” for your baked goods? Flaxseed and water can actually provide the consistency needed when a recipe calls for eggs. It won’t do the trick for your scramble or omelet, but it can hold some muffins together. Two tablespoons of the stuff give you about four grams of protein so it’s worth sprinkling on top of yogurt, oatmeal, and other breakfast dishes.
Best for enchiladas: Kidney beans
If you see a bright red veggie burger, take a look at its ingredients list. Kidney beans and beets have become a popular combination for a veggie burger base, and offer plenty of protein without any soy. Kidney beans can also make the base for your chili, or the filling for enchiladas. Combine it with your vegan sausages for a classic sausage and beans dish, or have it with curry. One cup offers 43 grams of protein.
Best for burger patties: Peas
We may just think of peas as an add-on that we just forget about. We see it in stir fry or as an afterthought to soup. Or it’s the frozen bag we put on a bruise. But one cup of peas actually offers eight grams of protein, which makes it no wonder it’s the base for many veggie burgers now. If you see a bright green patty, take a look – it’s probably made with pea protein.
Best for taco meat: Quinoa
Quinoa can also be used to make your own homemade faux meat crumbles. The base just calls for your favorite quinoa (red or white is fine), vegetable broth, and water, and a handful of seasonings – we like those used in this recipe. Quinoa is especially good for making faux taco meat, and just one cup offers eight grams of protein and five grams of fiber.