The sheer number of new food trends that pop up every few months is enough to make your head spin. One trend I notice gaining traction lately is meat substitutes.
My first thought when I read about this trend was: What’s the big deal? I often substitute bacon for sausage at breakfast without giving it a second thought. But after being told I was being boorish by a couple of gray-skinned vegans, I decided to give the subject a bit more thought.
As it turns out, this trend advocates discontinuing the consumption of meat altogether. Being the open-minded lover of all things delicious, I decided to look into it a bit more and also let y’all know where in the friendly ol’ 904 you can try some of these trendy treats.
There are two different ways to look at meat substitutes. The first is to think of them as a nutritional replacement for meat. This is the more traditional approach which dates back to the golden age of hippies. Yes, that magical time of yesteryear when young people began to scorn anything considered mainstream, including delectable animal products. Steak was declared to be evil and pork was sadly disdained. This era spawned the rise of granola and alfalfa sprouts as meat substitutes, along with beans and tofu. The idea was to replace the nutritional benefits of meat with a plant-based diet. The problem was, it was extremely difficult to replace the nutritional benefits of animal proteins in a completely plant-based diet. That is, until Americans discovered super-grains.
Super-grains are rich in fiber and protein. In fact, quinoa and amaranth contain all of the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. There are several other super-grains as well, such as farro, freekeh, kamut and spelt, but only quinoa and amaranth are complete proteins–and they’re gluten-free as well.
The other way to look at meat substitutes is as a stand-in for meat, similar to an understudy in a staged production. Concoctions like tempeh have taken the health food world by storm, along with seitan, textured vegetable protein, and the old common standby, tofu. The premise here is to create a vegetable-based product that not only has a texture similar to meat but a meat-like flavor and comparative nutritional value. Tempeh bacon is actually quite tasty and chicken-less chicken nuggets could easily replace the real ones you have stashed in your freezer. One major problem with these would-be meat imposters is that they are highly processed and pack an alarming amount of sodium.
The final addition to the meat replacement field is jackfruit. This tropical fruit has a texture that’s extremely similar to meat, especially if you roast it first. Jackfruit and tofu are blank palates for other flavors–making both super-versatile for any number of cuisine styles.
Northeast Florida has a plethora of vegan and vegetarian friendly spots, from groceries to specialty restaurants to regular old places that just happen to offer meat alternatives for those looking to avoid devouring a delicious animal now and again.
Visiting my friends at Nassau Health Foods on Amelia Island is a good place to begin. They offer unflavored jackfruit in cans as well as a few flavored versions. They also have seitan and tempeh for sale, or you can simply have your tempeh bacon in one of their wraps or salads from their in-store café. In Riverside, there’s the ever-popular Grassroots Natural Market, where you can purchase a variety of meat alternatives as well as a great selection of super-grains. Trader Joe’s offers a wide variety of super-grains at some of the most reasonable prices around, and the free lollipops rock! Native Sun Natural Foods Market has an outstanding selection of frozen meatless goodies, plus you can have your tempeh and eat it, too, from their deli.
If you just want to sit down and eat your meatless-self silly and have somebody else do all the work, Southern Roots Filling Station is the place for you. The menu is a seriously plant-based, with tons of variety and some rather outrageous flavors as well. Corner Taco even offers a tempeh taco, if you’re willing to skip the housemade chorizo. Over on Atlantic Boulevard, German Schnitzel Haus serves a surprising array of meatless goodies.
The number of restaurants now offering tempeh as a meat substitute is staggering. One can only hope that jackfruit will begin to take off just as much, as it is truly a more healthful choice for you Cheffed-Up meatless maniacs.