You’d never imagine a spiky tropical fruit would provide nature’s best doppelganger for the texture of meat, but if you strip the fibrous pulp from the seeds of the jackfruit and stick it in a burger, you’ll be shocked at how similar it is to pulled beef, pork or even chicken. The consistency is so meat-like that when you eat the pulp raw, ignoring its sweetish flavour, it feels like meat.
The trick is to eat jackfruit when it’s not too ripe, when it has a pretty neutral taste. The other flavours you normally find in a meat dish sill camouflage it easily, making it our pick for the best meat substitute in hamburgers, steak sandwiches and tacos.
Jackfruit pulp is packed with fibre and several types of antioxidants and vitamins. It also has a low energy density, with a 100g serving providing just 94 calories, which comes mostly from low GI carbohydrates. Jackfruit is also one of the rare fruits that’s rich in B-complex vitamins including vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), niacin, riboflavin and folic acid.
With their meaty umami flavour and dense texture when cooked, mushrooms are convenient meat substitutes in everything from bourguignon to burgers. Portobello mushrooms do the best job because their caps tend to be the largest and thickest, making it possible to eat them as little steaks or even minced.
Quite absorbent, mushrooms are easy to infuse with flavour. Even if you just want to grill a couple of portobello steaks, a 15-minute marinade is enough to hide much of the earthy flavour and make them taste more like meat.
What most people don’t realise is that portobello mushrooms are simply the grown-up versions of the white button and Swiss brown mushrooms found in supermarkets. Their nutritional profile is pretty good - full of fibre and nutrients such as vitamins B and C, as well as magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Mushrooms also contain a powerful antioxidant called ergothioneine, which is particularly beneficial for brain health. Like jackfruit, mushrooms are also very low in calories and protein.
Tempeh is a national meat substitute in Indonesian cuisine that’s made from cooked and fermented soya beans, but is much firmer and more textured than tofu. Cut into strips, it can be fried, baked or steamed and makes an excellent meat substitute, particularly in chilli dishes.
Tempeh is highly nutritious, with around 20g of protein per 100g (meat has around 30g). Low in carbs, its fats are mostly unsaturated and it has plenty of fibre and prebiotics for gut health, plus vitamins and minerals. If you want it to pretend it’s meat, tempeh is the least meat-like of the three alternatives here. But as a meat replacement in terms of nutritional goodness, it does a great job.