Veggie alternatives: what’s what – and what can they do?

A schnitzel with chips and béarnaise sauce, spaghetti bolognese with parmesan, chicken curry – most dishes now have simple vegetarian or vegan alternatives. What are the substitute products made of and how are they used? Find out in this guide.

Veggie alternatives

Not just for fans of chicken: jackfruit is a popular substitute for poultry, among its other uses. The giant, oblong fruit of the jack tree that grows in Southeast Asia can weigh up to 50 kilos. While it may not be especially protein-rich (compared to meat), it is a good source of magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. Harvested in an unripe state, its white flesh tastes neutral to slightly tart and works beautifully as the backbone of a curry, as veggie pulled ‘pork’ or in a fricassee. Raw, however, it is hard to digest in its unripe state. Jackfruit can be purchased as a whole, fresh fruit, and the flesh is also available in ready-to-use form in brine or dried. Even the seeds are edible: just cook them like beans and serve as a side dish.

Lupine

Lupin

Veggie sausages, schnitzels and fillets are often made of pulses, meaning peas, chickpeas and beans. They are by nature high in protein, a real plus for meat alternatives. But their own characteristic flavour tends to assert itself. Many people predict a great future for lupin, also known as lupin beans or lupini beans. While this legume was long used as a decorative plant because of its bright purple flowers or as animal feed, it is now making its way onto shelves as schnitzels, sausages and beverages.

Sunflower seeds have always been used in kitchens in the form of oil. Grinding the kernels yields a protein-rich press cake that can be used as an alternative to minced beef. Finely milled, the seeds in powder form are also added to smoothies as well as protein shakes and bars.

Schnitzels, nuggets, steak and sausages can also be made from cow’s milk – not vegan, but at least meatless. To make these products, the milk is fermented as it is for cheese. The resulting curds, when combined with plant fibres, form a structure similar to the muscle fibres in meat.

Tofu scrambled eggs

Alternatives to chicken eggs are usually powders consisting of a blend of lupin flour, tapioca and potato or corn starch. Just add water and they’re good to go. But now there are also ready-to-cook alternatives  that can be used just like their animal counterparts.

Tofu and silken tofu are made from coagulated soybean milk. The thickened liquid can be pressed until it reaches the desired consistency. Tofu is neutral in flavour, so it is a good source of protein in both sweet and savoury dishes, such as vegan mince. Silken tofu is creamier than regular tofu and is often used in desserts and cakes.
Tempeh is made from whole soy beans, which are soaked, boiled and then fermented with edible mould. Thanks to this process, tempeh is firm, has a slightly nutty flavour and is delicious in curries and salads.

Seitan steaks

Blend wheat flour with water, stir to form a sticky dough, leave to rest and then knead thoroughly – that’s the procedure for making seitan. Since it is virtually flavourless, it is then boiled in a savoury broth. With its meatlike, fibrous texture, seitan is particularly well suited for pan-searing as a schnitzel or gyros, or it can be grilled.

Plant-based alternatives to milk, cream and yogurt: the substitutes are mostly made of plenty of water plus soy, oats, almonds, hemp, spelt, peas, hazelnuts, cashews, coconut or rice. They are easy to make: just soak, puree and filter. Milk and cream alternatives can basically be used just like their animal-based counterparts in the kitchen. Some products are sweeter than cow’s milk, however. Relative newcomers to the shelves are the barista varieties, which are plant-based milk alternatives containing stabilisers that help them foam up well.

Fun fact: Why is it okay to say soy schnitzel but not oat milk? 
In the EU, the rule is: the designation must reflect the type of food. Many terms like schnitzel, goulash and sausage are not legally protected. That means there is nothing to stop manufacturers calling vegetarian and vegan products by those names – provided that the labelling makes it clear to consumers that the product does not contain meat. This is not the case with milk: the European Court of Justice has ruled that only animal-based products may be labelled as milk, cream or butter.

1 in 5 Germans eating less meat

According to a survey by business consultancy PwC and the market researchers at POSpulse on nutrition trends in Germany,  1 in 5 people are eating less meat. Alternative products make it easier to switch to plant-based foods. According to PwC’s estimates, the market volume of vegetarian and vegan substitute products is set to grow from around €2 billion in 2021 to €10 billion in 2030 in Germany alone. What about other EU countries? Where are people really consuming less meat? Find out here: Per capita meat consumption in Europe

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