The best brands of plant-based meat in 2021


woman eating a hamburger

Photo courtesy of Meredith Jenks / Trunk Archive

If you don’t eat meat or if you cut back a little for the planet or for your health: Sure, you can perform kitchen alchemy and turn chickpeas, cauliflower, butternut squash, eggplant, mushrooms, jackfruit, tempeh and tofu into some almost meaty wonders. But for something closer to the real thing, you can turn to herbal alternative meat products available in most grocery stores today. There are a lot. Are any of them healthy? Do they taste good? What are they anyway? Our senior director of science and research, dr. Gerda Endemann and Nutrition Director Caitlin O’Malley, reunited to share this with us.


Before we name names here, it’s worth noting that fake minced beef is our favorite fake meat we work with, because – like the real thing – it’s incredibly versatile. Even brands we tried that we didn’t like could be spiced up, dipped, or otherwise zhuzhirani into something that was pretty good. We also love when it’s available flavorless, so you have the option of making tacos, bolognese, burgers, shepherd’s pie, meatballs, meatballs, dumplings, chili, meat loaves, stuffed peppers – understand.

  1. The winner

    Impossible hamburger

    The taste and texture were known to deceive carnivorous animals thanks to the ingenious and recognizable use of plant heme (read more about this fascinating process here). It is prepared as easily as ground beef when crumbled or in burgers, which can get that famous pink center. The current recipe does not contain gluten (the original contained wheat proteins, but they stopped producing them in 2019) and contains a lot of protein and iron, as well as added zinc and B vitamins, which are useful if you eat a vegan diet.

  2. Close the other

    Beyond Meat Beyond Beef

    This was close. It could still be used just as successfully as meat impossible in almost all situations, but it came down to a hamburger. No garnish – just burgers, a little salt and a hot iron to test for pure flavor – Beyond has a slightly more obvious fake meat flavor than is impossible. We still really like this one – it’s gluten free, soy free and a good source of protein. We could just treat it a little more when we use it to make burgers.


Oh, chicken. Meat is the most consumed in the US and the hardest to fake. Getting that muscle texture right on fake chicken is so inconvenient and almost always involves wheat and soy, making it almost impossible to find a vegan chicken that doesn’t contain gluten and soy. For that purpose, we wouldn’t say that they are categorically healthier than chicken, but on those occasions when you start because of something, try one of these three.

  1. The winner

    Simulate spicy nags

    Chicken nugget is the foundation of frozen vegan food. Simulate it with these spicy snacks based on wheat and soy. The “chicken” itself is good, but well seasoned (hot dog, onion, ancho chili, paprika, red pepper and black pepper), the crunchy breaded outside will take you back for more. The kick on them is real, and we’d love to serve them with all the vegan sauces for a Super Bowl party or even on small buns as mini chicken skates.

  2. Close the other

    Quorn without meat burgers

    Quorn uses a fungal-based mycoprotein that makes up almost half of the pate – something unique and sustainable. We love crispy breading, and the burger itself has the most chicken flavor of any viola we’ve tried. It contains egg white, so it’s vegetarian, but not vegan (Quorn has completely vegan burgers, but we prefer the flavor and texture of the vegetarian version). Bonus: This brand was one of the few that opted for plastic-free packaging.

  3. Honorable Mention

    Bold original pieces

    When it comes to breaded vegan chicken, there’s not much to it, so when we heard that Daring has some options, we were eager to give it a try. We sautéed the original pieces in a little frozen oil, just a few minutes on each side, and they browned beautifully, and when they separated, they had that most prominent brownish chicken texture. Soy definitely comes with a bean flavor, but we think tossing in a robust sauce would be fine (barbecue, gochujang, teriyaki, sweet and sour, tikka masala, chipot, etc.). Also, we give them the props to work a lot with a little – apart from some spices, here are just three ingredients (water, soy protein concentrate and sunflower oil).


We will keep this category short. Because so many vegan sausages we tried were just dirty gluten logs.

  1. The winner

    Beyond Sausage Hot Italian

    Beyond Sausages are, of course, out of competition. Because they do not contain gluten, they do not rely on wheat gluten and have a much more pleasant sausage-like texture. When grilled or baked in a pan, the vegan wrap cracks a bit like real sausages, and we had great results when we took them out of the crust to crumble and sauté with onions and garlic before adding the mashed tomatoes to the vegan meat sauce. The flavors are quite impressive: both sweet and spicy Italian are well spiced, and bratwurst tastes like bratwurst – which is not easy to achieve.


Starting the day with less meat and more plants is something we can lag behind. Luckily this category had a lot of good choices.

  1. The winner

    Hilary’s spicy vegetarian sausage

    This one is a bit of a unicorn in the fake meat universe, as the list of ingredients consists almost entirely of super recognizable whole foods (millet, lentils, date trout, hemp seeds, potato starch), and it also seems to taste really good. The heat level was pleasant, with those classic fennel and sage-breakfast-sausage flavors. It crumbles a bit and doesn’t stick together like regular sausages, but if that’s the main substitute for the option of choosing with such useful ingredients, we’ll accept it.

  2. Close the other

    Abbot’s Spanish smoked “Chorizo”

    Soy-based horizons have been around for a while and are usually pretty good, but we were intrigued when we found out about the soy-free version from Abbot’s Butcher. For the base, he uses pea protein, along with Spanish smoked peppers, cumin, garlic, coriander, cloves and oregano for an extremely deep and well-rounded taste. It is easy to prepare and can be used for more than just breakfast. We’re thinking about putting it on top of a vegan bag with guaca and pizza.

  3. Honorable Mention

    Sweet country benevolent bacon

    This vegetarian bacon found us on the list because it is so well seasoned. Sweet Earth isn’t shy in a spicy marinade situation – which is good: it’s smoky, sweet and a bit drinkable with legitimate BBQ vibes. The texture isn’t as bacony, but it becomes nicely crispy when cooked in a pan, and would be great in veggie BLAT or crumbled on top of a southwestern salad with a vegan ranch and crispy tortilla strips.


We knew about “chickpea tuna” and “crab cakes”, but the thought of vegan fish scared us a little. Still, we bravely rushed to taste testing.

  1. The winner

    Sophie’s Kitchen
    Breaded vegan shrimp

    Sophie’s Kitchen vegan fish was a pleasant surprise. Our favorite were breaded shrimp. The texture was incredibly similar to the real thing, and the algae powder gives them that essence of the sea without being heavy and fishy. They are also gluten free, and the breading of the rice powder was extremely fresh when we cooked them. We’re not sure we’d snack on these solos, but they would be perfect for vegan crispy shrimp tacos or for vegan shrimp.


Okay, eggs are not meat. But they are an animal product, and when we heard about the vegan egg substitute, we had to try it.

  1. The winner

    Just Egg

    The key ingredient is mung beans – we were happy to see something that wasn’t quite so soy. We added Just Egg to a little melted butter in a pan and it miraculously cooked into a fluffy pile. The texture is dotted – it’s probably the best nonsense we’ve ever tried on that front. There is a slight taste of legumes, but if you had it for breakfast in a burrito or sandwich or even added some herbs and vegetables, we think you would find it hard to notice. This is a great option if you are vegan or allergic to eggs.

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