Today, if you want to eat meat in the UAE without eating meat, you can. We’re talking alt meats. Vegan meat substitutes that mimic the real thing so closely, you won’t be faulted for not knowing the difference.
Where’s the chicken? Not in your burgers.
With incentives ranging from health to climate and animal welfare, the mock meat food market is getting quite crowded these days. Even the smallest restaurants and cafés are jumping aboard with enthusiasm, substituting a chicken side here, an eggy sauce there.
Ikea’s vegan meatballs launched in the UAE, in September of 2020 (following a plant-based hotdog a few years back), and was met with much excitement – we profess to walking straight past all the furniture in our enthusiasm to try it.
We’ve listed our six favourites from the vegan meat world, the ones that come oh-so close to the sensation of eating meat, the ones that have serious game. Some are new-age versions, others are just staples that have existed over decades of culinary traditions. Make no mistake, these are no lentil or bean patties of yore. This is juicy, succulent, meaty meat. It has bite. It has taste. Some even, well... “bleed”. They are so similar to real meat, if you’re vegan/vegetarian you’re sure to freak out. Which means mission accomplished. Fire up the skillet.
1. Beyond Burger
One of two go-to vegan burgers (see below), this one is juicy pea protein with texture and flavour that’s spot on without being cow-dependent. The raw patty resembles beef so closely it even bleeds – don’t worry, that’s via beet juice. There’s also white fat flecks like in beef for the marbling effect – this time via coconut oil. It holds its shape during cooking. When cooked, it remains juicy on the inside. Which means if you’re looking to consume less saturated fat while not giving up on burgers, beef is no longer just the only option on the menu. Plus, the Beyond Burger is also both soy and gluten free. This one is sure to go beyond expectations.
2. Impossible Burger
One of only two high-tech entries on this list, the Impossible Burger has been genetically modified, unlike the Beyond Burger. Available as ground “beef”, it sears on a pan, sizzles on a grill. It has a juicy and pink interior when cooked, with the right amount of crumble. It’s as close to perfect faux beef as you can get. In a major breakthrough, the burger uses a molecule called heme (from haemoglobin) that makes meat taste like meat, makes meat pink.
The raw meat bleeds “blood”, just like the Beyond Burger. The Impossible Burger even won over Burger King, which made headlines last year with the debut of its Impossible Whopper. It’s also gluten-free, so double whoop. Even hardcore vegan avoiders won’t be able to pick holes in this one.
Skip the beans and mushrooms or lentils and reach for something more adventurous - something spiky, large and green. What can replace the chicken in your pulled-chicken sandwiches? Jackfruit’s starchy, savoury flesh, of course. And we mean the unripe one, not the one with a fruity flavour. Unripe jackfruit is stringy and meaty, and so perfectly mimics shredded or pulled chicken.
This fruit with origins in India also has lots of fibre, so is great for you from a nutritional standpoint. Caramelise it, fry it, grill it… use it in tacos, “crab cakes” and even butter “chicken”. It’s quite a jack of all trades when you think of it.
Before the age of Beyond and Impossible burgers, the original stars of mock meat were mostly made from soybean. Tempeh might be less well known than tofu, which is a shame considering it lends more to tasting like meat. Tempeh’s best eaten cooked. Made from soybeans and fermented, it has a nutty flavour and chewier texture than tofu. It also contains more nutrients than tofu.
Tempeh soaks up flavours, and takes to all kinds of seasonings, so sliced, cubed or ground it works well if you want to throw in some meat to dishes. Unlike seitan below, this one’s great for gluten-free cooking. It’s also high in protein, and relatively unprocessed, unlike the plant-based burgers on this list. Use it for a non-chicken Caesar salad, layer it in sandwiches, or use it as taco meat – grated tempeh makes for a great base.
Called wheat meat, this chewy wheat-based product might not be for the gluten-avoiding ones, but perfectly mimics the texture of meat. Fully plant-based and made by washing wheat flour dough until all the starch has been removed, seitan is high in protein and is a staple of vegetarian and vegan diets.
You can grill seitan, soup it or stir-fry it, because like tofu it’s a bit of a blank slate, which means it can be marinated, scrambled or baked. It can absorb a whole lot of flavours, so go crazy! Vegetarian seitan chicken wings, anyone? Mock duck? You can either choose to make seitan at home, or buy it from specialty health food stores.
6. Cultured meat
Well, this is technically meat, but not in the traditional sense, so we added it in. In December 2020, Singapore made waves by approving the sale of a lab-grown meat product – grown from animal cells, unlike Impossible Burger, which is plant based. In doing so, Singapore became the first country to approve this meat alternative, with San-Francisco based start-up Eat Just winning approval to sell its “chicken bites”. This breakthrough has ramifications for the food industry globally, including a future where meat can be produced without the slaughtering of animals. Cultured meat sees stem cells taken from the muscle of a living animal and grown in a bioreactor.
The bites immediately went up on the menu of a Singapore restaurant, and is sure to wean many off meat in the future, being antibiotic-free and cruelty-free.