Plant-based proteins are hotter than ever right now. In 2020, the plant-based meat market grew 45% — twice as fast as conventional meat, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association.
While the number of people who identify as vegetarian or vegan has held relatively steady the last few years, more folks are starting to trade animal products for plant-based proteins a few nights a week. According to a 2017 report from Nielson, some 40% of Americans don't consider themselves vegan but do actively try and incorporate plant-based foods into their diet.
That's not surprising, considering lowering your meat intake and upping your vegetable intake helps lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, potentially helps you lose weight, and is one of the most important steps you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint. (Find out more about the health and environmental benefits of eating vegan at the end of this guide.)
That being said, eating pro-plants does take a little more thought: "When you take meat off your plate, it can be tough to know what to substitute at first," Nichole Dandrea-Russert, RD, a nutritionist in Atlanta and author of "The Fiber Effect," told Insider.
That's especially true for protein which should make up at least 10-20% of your daily calories, and closer to 25-35% if you're trying to build muscle. (FWIW, the medical reviewer for this piece, Ryan D. Andrews, RD, says that your daily protein intake should ideally be calculated based on your body weight.)
The solution is vegan meat substitutes. Products like vegan chicken, vegan beef, and other plant-based proteins "can be a great way to transition from a meat-centric to a plant-centric diet," Dandrea-Russert said. They allow you to keep cooking the dishes you're already familiar with but with less of an environmental impact and rewrite the narrative that vegan food doesn't taste good.
I'm a vegan lifestyle coach and educator who's certified in plant-based nutrition and has served as a vegan mentor for PETA and Vegan Outreach. I've walked many people through vegan protein choices at the store and have found these are helpful as transition foods. That being said, just because something is vegan doesn't mean it's healthy; like all packaged products, it's important to choose clean ingredient labels.
Furthermore, in order for vegan meat substitutes to help you enjoy dinner without meat, it has to actually taste good. That's why I taste-tested over 70 packaged plant-based proteins, including vegan eggs, vegan chicken, and vegan pork, to narrow down which are worth your money.
Below, you'll find my picks for the tastiest and most texturally appealing vegan meat and fish proteins.
How I tested
I'm a former meat-eater-turned vegan who's married to a non-vegan (though, my partner is about 95% plant-based these days and hasn't eaten meat in several years).
I was already familiar with many of the products featured in this guide and have used them in my own kitchen for years. While I relied on recent cooking experiences to form opinions, I also personally tested each product mentioned in this article and many that didn't make the cut. There are so many products on the market, including many new ones coming out every week, that I couldn't possibly test all of them — but I worked my way through dozens.
My testing included cooking these products per their package instructions and incorporating them into dishes where appropriate. I experimented with many of these products two or three times and set them out for both my husband and me to try, each of us holding a pow-wow after to discuss our impressions.
My goal: Find products that tasted good and that comes close to resembling the taste and texture of their animal counterparts since most of these products are actually designed to draw non-vegans in. I also wanted to make sure that they're relatively easy to find, no matter where you live in the country.
The best veggie burger
I tested a handful of veggie burgers, including Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger, but it was Sweet Earth's Awesome Burger 2 that won the category. It's juicy, red, and meaty loaded with 26 grams of protein, namely from peas. The name is appropriate, as this burger will sway any meat lover to the plant-based side, and that alone makes it awesome.
Aside from top-notch texture and visuals, this burger is bursting with flavor — especially slapped between a whole-wheat bun and topped with vegan cheese, lettuce, and tomato. It's also good enough to just eat it plain.