Pork has a long and storied history as a major piece of American culinary culture, but as people focus more on personal and environmental health, many view raising pigs for consumption as an unsustainable approach.
But there’s no need to worry if you’re a lover of the other white meat. For centuries, cooks across the world have been developing plant-based alternatives to pork, which was often in short supply. Today, you can find or create vegetarian substitutes for everything from sausage links to bacon to Chinese-style spare ribs.
Take barbecue for instance. When it comes to slow cooked ribs or pork butt, many times we’re drawn to the smoky flavor and tangy-spicy-sweet sauce: two elements you can easily mimic using beans, mushrooms, tofu, and vegetables. Same with pulled pork. You can actually recreate the stringy, satisfying texture of slow-cooked meat using ingredients like jackfruit, mushrooms, or seitan.
This Monday, check out all the amazing pork-alternatives available for you to explore. Also included in the roundup is a list of recipes for classic pork dishes — chorizo, pulled pork, bacon, carnitas, pork katsu — that you can make using only plant-based ingredients.
Jackfruit is a tropical tree fruit common in Southeast Asian cooking. It has a pleasant, slightly stringy texture that makes it a nice alternative to slow cooked or braised meat products. Rarely sold as a whole fruit — it’s pretty big and cumbersome — jackfruit is more widely available canned or as a prepackaged meat alternative. If unfamiliar with jackfruit, try using it in dishes like vegetarian barbecued pulled pork sandwiches or jackfruit tacos. Note that jackfruit is not a protein replacement, but adds fiber and nutrients.
Seitan is a wheat-based protein that has a savory taste and chewy texture similar to seasoned chicken or pork. It’s typically sold in chunks and is pretty lean unless packaged in oil. When cooking with seitan, remember to keep it moist because the product comes precooked, so it’s susceptible to drying out if not handled correctly. With the right recipe you can transform seitan into yummy sticky “spare ribs”, vegan pepperoni, or vegan salami.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that’s similar to tofu but with different nutritional and textural qualities. Unlike tofu, tempeh uses the whole soybean, which gives the product a firmness and chew that’s similar to cooked meat. Besides being a good source of protein, minerals, and fiber, tempeh is also a great plant-based alternative to bacon; it also takes pretty well to slow cooking, like in this vegan Taiwanese braised tempeh.
A soy-based protein with neutral flavor, tofu benefits from tangy marinades, explosive seasoning, and different cooking techniques that give it texture and crunch. Since it absorbs flavor so easily, tofu can be used to recreate a variety of different pork products such as bacon, chorizo, sweet and sour pork, or crispy pork katsu. Tofu comes in a variety of textures ranging from silken (creamy, not recommended for meat substitutes) to extra firm (best for a ‘meaty’ texture). For best results, press out the water before cooking so that the tofu can crisp up when baked or fried.
Interested in more plant-based protein swaps? Click here for vegan alternatives to beef and here for our full guide on plant-based meats. When posting pictures of recipes to your social media network, tag @MeatlessMonday use #MeatlessMonday to show the plant-based community your creation.