What Is Vegan Chicken Made Of?
Plant-based meats such as vegan chicken make a healthy, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free alternative to traditional poultry.
Luckily, it’s easier than ever these days to find meat-free chicken substitutes at your local supermarket. Many vegan poultry brands are almost indistinguishable from the real thing, leaving many people wondering: what is vegan chicken made of?
Here, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about vegan chicken. Read on to learn more about what vegan chicken is made of, where to find the most popular brands, and how to make your own meat alternatives at home.
History of Vegan Chicken
Many people think of meat substitutes as a relatively new innovation, but the history of meatless proteins goes back far beyond modern science.
Records dating back almost 1,000 years indicate that meat substitutes were an important part of Chinese cuisine dating back as far as the Tang dynasty (1). The practice is thought to have started with Buddhist monks who practice a strictly vegetarian lifestyle.
Mock meats such as soy-based tofu are still an important part of Asian cooking in many countries to this day.
The first mass-produced meat substitute to appear in Western markets was peanut-based and high in protein. John Harvey Kellogg developed the mock meat for sanitarium patients, but by 1896, “Nuttose” was available to the general public (2).
Kellogg also introduced another popular soy-based meat alternative known as Soy Protose in 1943. Many people used Soy Protose as a vegetarian alternative to white meats such as chicken.
Nowadays, you can find a much wider array of meatless proteins available at almost any supermarket. Vegan chicken comes in all shapes and sizes, from imitation breast meat to ready-made nuggets.
Vegan Chicken Ingredients
If you’ve ever tasted vegan chicken, you may have found yourself wondering: what is vegan chicken made of?
When well-cooked, vegan chicken can be nearly indistinguishable from the real deal. The best brands work to mimic everything from appearance and texture to taste and mouthfeel.
Vegan chicken typically contains plant-based ingredients. Some of the most common components in mass-produced meatless chicken include soy, wheat gluten, and pea protein.
Most vegan chicken options contain other ingredients in addition to vegetable proteins to better mimic the taste and feel of real chicken.
Oils such as coconut or peanut oil help bind protein together and prevent meat substitutes from drying or crumbling during cooking. Many plant-based chicken alternatives also contain ingredients such as methylcellulose or potassium lactate to help patties, nuggets, and more to keep their form.
To mimic the texture of muscle fibers, vegan chicken may contain components such as plant protein concentrates and bamboo fiber. These ingredients provide a thicker, meatier consistency.
While meat alternatives such as tofu contain little to no additional flavorings, many vegan chicken options use seasonings and natural flavors such as yeast extract for a more authentic taste.
Nutrition Value of Vegan Chicken
Many people make the switch to vegan chicken because it’s an eco-friendly and cruelty-free alternative to traditional meat. Plant-based meats don’t require massive grazing spaces or output the same pollutants as commercially raised livestock.
As an added benefit, vegan chicken is a healthy protein choice for people of all ages. It contains the same healthy proteins and essential amino acids as traditional poultry.
What’s more, plant-based meats such as vegan chicken are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals that make for a more well-rounded diet. They also contain plenty of fiber and healthy plant fats.
Soy-based substitutes like tofu contain plenty of calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. Wheat-gluten alternatives such as seitan can provide minerals such as selenium and phosphorus (3).
Vegan vs. Real Chicken
While white meat such as chicken often gets billed as a healthy option, the truth is that regular consumption can raise cholesterol just as much as consuming red meat. Both are high in unhealthy fats that you should only eat in moderation (4).
Vegan chicken is often a better choice than real chicken for the health-conscious. Ingredients such as soy and wheat gluten are not only high in protein but also nutrients such as iron and fiber for better digestive health.
Plant-based chicken also typically contains less saturated fat than animal-derived meats. A diet high in saturated fat can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol and related cardiac issues. By lowering saturated fat intake, you can help to protect your circulatory health.
Increasing consumption of healthy fats, on the other hand, will also improve your cholesterol. Mono and polyunsaturated fats found in plant sources can lower levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, in your system. At the same time, it also increases HDL levels, or “good” cholesterol (5).
Vegan chicken may be safer than real chicken for those sensitive to chemicals or hormones.
Many farms use antibiotics and hormones when raising chickens, which can end up making their way into the meat. Processing practices may also leave chemical contamination on raw chicken, including chlorine and bleach.
Most vegan meat substitutes do not contain the same additives as farm-raised chicken. However, keep in mind that soy products can influence levels of female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone (6).
Can You Make Vegan Chicken at Home?
You can easily whip up a batch of realistic vegan chicken at home using common pantry ingredients. Most recipes call for plant protein, plant-based oils, and umami seasonings.
There are a wide variety of plant-based proteins that you can use to create meatless chicken. One of the most popular is tofu, which is made primarily of soy. Tofu has a soft, silken texture and may require ingredients such as bamboo fiber or cellulose for a meatier texture.
Wheat gluten, also known as seitan, is another popular plant-based protein. Like tofu, it has a mild flavor. However, seitan is a slightly more versatile meat substitute, thanks to its somewhat chewy texture.
Pea protein is a powder derived from dried and crushed peas. While it’s not quite as popular as tofu or wheat gluten, pea protein has a thick, coarse texture that makes it a good choice for ground meat substitutions.
In some cases, people use ground mushrooms as a chicken substitute. Varieties such as the aptly named “chicken mushroom” already have the flavor and consistency of cooked chicken, making them an ideal alternative.
Plant-based proteins such as tofu and seitan don’t retain moisture well. They tend to dry out and crumble when cooked, which can ruin the consistency of meat-based dishes.
Adding plant oils helps balance out the texture of meatless chicken and ensures it stays moist and juicy, even in the oven.
Oils such as vegetable, olive, and safflower oil tend to be best for vegan chicken recipes, as they won’t impact the taste. Ingredients such as peanut or coconut oil may leave your chicken tasting overly nutty.
Adding seasonings can make your vegan chicken taste more realistic, especially if it’s the central focus of your meal.
There are a wide variety of savory seasonings that help to give a meatier flavor to plant proteins. Miso paste boasts a strong umami flavor, as does crushed garlic. Vegetable or mushroom bullion can also improve taste and, unlike chicken bullion, is typically vegan-friendly.
In some cases, you may not need to season your vegan chicken before cooking. If you are using it in a spiced dish, plant-based proteins such as tofu are adept at absorbing flavor.
Most Popular Vegan Chicken Brands
Instead of making your own vegan chicken, you can find convenient premade options in the freezer aisle or deli section of your grocery store.
As more and more people convert to veganism, plant-based meat substitutes are becoming increasingly easy to find. There are a variety of big-name brands that sell meatless chicken in supermarkets across the country. Some of the most popular brands include:
- Trader Joe’s Chicken-less Lineup
- Whole Foods 365 Chicken-Style Meals
- Tofurkey Plant-Based Chick’N
- Loma Linda Meat Substitutes
- Sweet Earth Plant-Based Chik’N
- Upton Naturals Meatless Chicken Options
- Quorn Meatless ChiQin
- No Evil Foods No-Chicken Plant Meat
- May Wah Vegan Chicken Meals
- Lightlife Plant-Based Chicken
- Boca Chik’n Veggie Patties
- Hungry Planet Chicken
- Dr. Praeger’s Plant Protein Chicken
- Abbot’s Butcher Chick’n
- Beyond Chicken
- Daring Plant-Based Meat
- Alpha Foods Chick’n
- Field Roast Meatless Deli Chicken
- Gardein Plant-Based Chick’n
Whether you’re looking for some meatless chicken to add to your cooking or a ready-made meal, you can find ready-made options to suit any taste.
Vegan chicken is more than just environmentally friendly. It makes a healthy addition to any diet and a good substitute for real chicken. However, many people wonder: what is vegan chicken made of?
A serving of plant-based chicken is packed full of nutritious and natural ingredients such as pea protein, soy, and wheat gluten. Other additives and seasoning help to give the meat a more authentic flavor and texture.
Whether you make your own vegan chicken or buy supermarket brands, you lead a healthier lifestyle by swapping out real meat for heart-healthy plant proteins. What’s more, you can feel good knowing that you’re helping to further the cause of animal and environmental rights worldwide.