In this guide, we’ve covered ready-made vegetarian burgers and sausages that contain mycoprotein, soya, or other beans, and nuts. These are foods that might be considered alternatives to meat in that they are a source of protein. We haven’t covered the ones that are just vegetables in breadcrumbs, or dry packet mixes like Sosmix, although the companies in this guide may also make these and other meat-free products.
Quorn is the leading brand in the meat alternatives market in Britain. It is made of mycoprotein, which means protein from fungi (in this case based on a type of soil mould), grown in fermentation vats. Although the name ‘Quorn’ is trademarked, the patent on the mycoprotein itself expired a few years ago, so other companies can now make it under a different name if they wish. So far no one has wanted to.
As vegans will no doubt be aware, not all Quorn is vegan because egg white is used to bind the mycoprotein together. However, two vegan versions are now on sale in the UK, which use potato starch instead – frozen hot & spicy burgers and chicken style pieces.
In terms of ingredients across all brands, however, soya is still the number one choice. It is appealing because, unlike most other beans, it provides complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids that we need. It has been eaten in Asia for thousands of years and was introduced to the rest of the world in the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, but it didn’t catch on as a human food outside of Asia until much later. Read our feature 'Is Soya Sustainable?'.
Strangely, none of the main types of meat alternatives were created for animal welfare reasons. Soya sausages were invented in Germany during the first world war as a way of dealing with meat shortages. Quorn was developed in the 1960s as part of a research drive to find new proteins, due to concerns about feeding the growing world population.
The veggie sausages of the future
Some people are experimenting with making meat alternatives out of lupin beans, sometimes called “the soya bean of the north”. They are also very high in protein, and they can grow in cooler climates than soya, which makes them better suited to Europe.