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Where's The Meat

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Looking for a way to decrease—or eliminate—the fat content of classic meat-based one-bowl meals like soups, chili and casseroles but still keep the “meaty” bite? Chefs can look to the humble soybean to fill the void when animal protein is taken out of the recipe equation.

Soy meat substitutes are classified into three categories: meat analogs (think veggie burgers), texturized soy protein and tempeh.

Meat analogs are non-meat foods made primarily from soy proteins, carbohydrates and other ingredients made to resemble meats, poultry or fish products in taste, texture color and form.

These products are found in the refrigerator and freezer case in the form of beef and sausage style crumbles (and ground), deli slices, burgers and hot dogs, entrees of stew, chili or pasta, taco fillings, sausage style links and patties, chicken-like patties and nuggets and bacon-like strips. There are even shelf stable taco fillings, chili, meatball and loaf mixes, ribs and sausage–style strips.

Texturized soy protein often called TSP or TVP (texturized vegetable protein) is made from soy flour that is compressed until the protein fibers change in structure. It is used as an extender in a variety of products and recipes.

TSP may be unflavored, meat or chicken flavored and appear in chunks, slices, flakes, crumbles or bits. It’s available as a dried granular product which, when re-hydrated with boiling water, has a texture similar to ground beef or stew meat.

Operators can replace up to one fifth of the meat called for in a recipe with re-hydrated TSP without any flavor loss. In spicy dishes, like chili or tacos, chefs may use TSP to replace half or more of the meat originally specified.

Tempeh is a tender white cake of cooked soybeans that can be made of all soy or soy combined with grains, legumes and seeds. It has a tender, yet chewy consistency.

High quality tempeh has a mild “mushroomy” or “yeasty” aroma and slices or cubes easily without crumbling. Steam it, then marinate (grate or cut it into small cubes or thin slices when marinating to ensure it absorbs the marinade flavors), then grill it. Add chunks of tempeh to spaghetti sauce, sloppy Joe and chili mixes, soups and casseroles for a meaty bite.

Tips for usage. “The protein content of these products is very high because soy is a complete protein and has all the vital amino acids in it (that animal proteins also provide). And many manufacturers add additional vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc and B12 making them an even more attractive recipe ingredient,” says Ann Patterson, R.D., owner of Nutrition Advantage, a food and nutrition consulting company in Farmington, Ill. But the real bonus for chefs developing “plant based” recipes is that these products are naturally low in fat and cholesterol free.

Recent advances in processing techniques have made meat analogs better tasting than before, says Patterson. Indeed, many are flavored like meat and/or enhanced with herbs and spices, which helps them to fit nicely into your customers’ favorite recipes without the addition of hard to find seasonings or a noticeable change in the classic recipe’s taste.

And because many of these products go from package to pan with little effort, they’re easy to add to the daily prep without additional labor and little specialized skill.

For chefs looking to purchase these products for the first time, ­ Patterson advises that they watch the sodium content as some products may be higher in sodium than the meat ingredient for which they are a substitute. “Therefore, in recipe development, be sure to taste as you go along, because some are highly seasoned,” she says. And to ensure a toothsome (not tough) texture of the final recipe, “Be careful to avoid over-cooking,” she adds. fm

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