Skip to main content

Should vegetarian food mimic meat? Quorn, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) and other strange concoctions!


Soya fish fingers and soya 'chicky' mince? Give us some credit, please!

This hub is written in response to a recent experience I had, eating out in Hove (that's on the south coast of England, for those of you who live further afield!) I'm for the most part, a lacto-vegetarian although I do, very occasionally, still eat fish and seafood. My teenaged daughter is 100% lacto-vegetarian, and my husband, well he eats pretty much anything you might serve on a plate, but he mostly just goes with the flow. As you might imagine, we tend to choose veggie friendly places when we eat out, so when we heard that a new Vegan restaurant had opened next to Hove Lagoon we headed on down.

VBites has big name clout. It is the brainchild of the ex-wife of a famous singer, but as this hub is not about that, I'll allow the more curious reader to just follow the link. A lot of money and effort has been spent to good effect re-vamping a tired old seaside cafe into a smart and trendy eaterie. That's the good news. The bad news, for me at least, was the menu which was absolutely littered with meat substitute meals, such as soya fish cakes, soya chicken style satay, soya chicky slice sandwich, and soya beefy strips. Ugh!

Now I don't wish to sound self-righteous here, because I often do use meat substitutes in certain meals and recipes. It's convenient, for example, to use ready-made veggie sausages in toad-in-the-hole, or to use quorn mince in a vegetarian version of shepherd's pie. But truthfully, I don't give a stuff whether they taste like meat, or mimic meat in any way other than as an easy to use ingredient in a traditional family meal. I've talked to other long-term vegetarians and they pretty much agree with me. Not eating meat doesn't have to equate to a deprivation when there are so many other tasty things to enjoy. So why pretend things are meaty when they're clearly not?

One of our favourite restaurants in nearby Brighton is 'Bombay Aloo', which operates a vegetarian Indian buffet. The food is cheap, colourful, tasty, and always a pleasure to eat. None of it masquerades as meat. Similarly there are several well-established exclusively vegetarian restaurants in the town such as 'Food for Friends', 'Terra Terra' and 'Waikikamookau' where the vegetarian cuisine is imaginative, wholesome, and utterly satisfying. So why, in the face of all this long-term local tolerance of a vegetarian lifestyle are we now being offered soya chicky mince? It's all a mystery to me, especially as my husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed the two main dishes we had at VBites, chosen, needless to say, from the few non-meat substitute meals on offer there.

Quorn. It's more than just a fungus.

I've not eaten meat now for nearly thirty years. I don't evangelise. Other people can eat what they please, and although I and my daughter live meat-free, I do still cook meat for my son and my husband from time to time. Having said that, I can see that there is a certain logic in more of us adopting a meat-free, or minimal meat meal life-style. The world has become more and more crowded, and the resources required to raise lifestock are apparently far greater than those required to feed ourselves with grain, legumes, and vegetables.

So that said, let's cut to the chase. What are these so-called meat substitutes, and do they have merit in their own right?

The Genesis of Quorn

By 1964 the world’s population had rapidly overtaken UN projections and there were widespread forecasts of a global shortage of protein by the 1980s. As we now know, that global shortage did not occur, but computer modelling has given us similar forecasts for our burgeoning population in the not so distant future.

The late Lord Rank, (J Arthur Rank of movie fame) was then the Chairman of the Rank Hovis McDougall group of companies (RHM), and he began to take a keen interest in the development of a plant based alternative to animal protein. With all the brains and the laboratories of RHM at his disposal, it wasn't long before he came up with a scheme to “turn starch into protein” using some form of fermentation, and he instructed his head of research, Dr Arnold Spicer accordingly.

Quorn is born

Lord Rank set Dr Spicer clear objectives. The new food should be first and foremost safe to eat and of a high nutritional value as well as being tasty and appetising.

The three main characteristics of food quality aside from nutritional value, are flavour, colour and texture. Satisfactory flavour and colour are relatively easy to achieve, but creating 'good' texture was to prove the most elusive aspect of the challenge. After much experimentation, the RHM food scientists eventually concluded that a filamentous micro-organism – a fungus - would aid the creation of ‘good’ texture, and after thorough research, an extensive survey was mounted in 1967 involving some 3,000 organisms taken from global soil samples. Ironically, the organism finally identified as the most suitable for further development came from a garden in Marlow in Buckinghamshire, just four miles from the Research Centre.

By the time Quorn™ food products eventually became available in the 1980s the threatened global protein shortage had failed to materialise. So the Quorn™ range was instead marketed as a selection of nutritious and versatile foods with all the texture and flavour of meat but none of the associated guilt. Sound familiar?

Nutritionally quorn has a lot to offer, being high in protein and dietary fibre, and low in saturated fats and salt, although It does contain less dietary iron than most meats. The manufacturers have promoted it in a variety of meat substitute forms such as sausages, mince, and cubes. In some products it mimics the behaviour of meat so closely as to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. As a long-term vegetarian, I've come to accept this similarity, and as I mentioned earlier, I do use quorn mince, although I'm not quite so keen on some of the other products in the range.

Soya mince, also known as TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)

Before the advent of Quorn, Soya mince or TVP (textured vegetable protein) was the mainstay of the meat substitute market. As you might imagine, soya mince is derived from soya beans, and  it can be made into all sorts of burgers, sausages, mince dishes, chicken-type dishes and meaty-tasting things. Astonishingly, it is also now being made into fishy flavoured things too, and in terms of flavour, colour and texture, it is a cheap and satisfying alternative to animal products.

Probably the best known form of soya TVP is minced, like minced beef, which is ideal for popular family dishes such as shepherd’s pie, lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, burgers etc. You can buy it dried (just add water), but the frozen, pre-hydrated version is much nicer. Most of the ready-made meat alike products on the market are soya based, although they generally have plenty of flavourings and other additives to make them into the veggie burgers, sausages and chilli sin carne that we know and love.

Wheat protein, or seitan

Another, less well-known, but still useful meat alike is wheat protein, also known as seitan, which is derived from wheat gluten (the protein part of the flour). The gluten is extracted from wheat and then processed to mimic meat. It is closer to meat in texture than textured vegetable protein and is used as a meat substitute in a range of foods. Being naturally low in fat seitan can be roasted, baked, stir-fried, stewed or even used in sandwiches.

Meat or meat-alike - what's your preference?

Vegan homestyle cookies - sound delicious!


Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 23, 2016:

Hi Louisa Finnell, I agree with you. Vegetarian food can be a true culinary adventure. Much more so than the pretend meat offerings which seem to be inevitably accompanied by fries or something similar. Still, everyone must earn a living somehow!

LouisaFinnell on September 22, 2016:

Scroll to Continue

I love vegetarian food because of the colors and textures of carrots, spaghetti squash, beans, and so on. The last thing I want is some weird fake sausage made out of fungus and soy. It may not be meat, but it isn't a vegetable either. Unfortunately that's a prominent feature of the vegan/vegetarian restaurants I usually see. As a vegetarian, sadly, I can do better going to a steakhouse and ordering their side dishes, but if there's a market for this fake meat stuff, good luck to them.

poetryman6969 on March 26, 2015:

I eat meat and I would just as soon by pass the mystery meat and pseudo meat. If you are going to be vegetarian I don't really understand the for mystery meat. Go whole hog. Eat the green rainbow!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 18, 2012:

Thank you for that insight Wesley. I had never considered meat substitute products from that viewpoint before. I guess if meatalikes help people to make the transition to vegetarianism in a controlled and angst-free manner, then they're doing the job they set out to do.

wesleymarilio on January 18, 2012:

Hi Amanda,

I accidentally came across your article when searching for "quorn turned me vegetarian" on Google. It was very interesting reading about what you think towards these I-look-like-meat-but-I-am-fake dishes.

Interestingly, I am not a veggetarian. I was born in Brazil, so it's part of our culture to have a lot of barbecues throughout the year.

Even though I am not a veggetarian, I do love animals and I think it's very unfair that we kill to eat, but sometimes when I have cottage pie for instance, I don't automatically think that I am eating bit of an animal.

I mistakenly bought Quorn chiken escalopes thinking it was an ordinary one and didn't know what Quorn was and I liked it. Then I tried Quorn stakes and Quorn chicken slices - I never thought it would be that easy to become a veggetarian!

Thanks to the these particular products (the ones that mimic meat), I am able to become determined to live a meat free life, whereas before I never considered the possibility of not eating meat.

I understand your point of view as a long term veggetarian, but places like the new restaurant you reviewed a few years ago can be the starting point of a life change for many people.


Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 05, 2010:

Hi Rontlog, Thanks for posting this. Many people have food allergies, and sometimes these can be serious and life-threatening. Certain foods are particularly well-known for triggering reactions, such as peanuts, seafood, and strawberries. I had never heard of quorn causing a problem before, but it doesn't altogether surprise me. People need to be in tune with their bodies in order to ensure the best nutrition for their needs.

rontlog from England on September 05, 2010:

I found your hub very interesting, particularly regarding Quorn.

I have eaten Quorn a couple of times and both times been violently sick. The first time, there was a sickness bug going around and I put it down to that, then last week my husband bought a Quorn Lasagna for tea. Within two hours I was violently sick.

I had always believed it to be made from a form of mushroom, but after a being sick I decided to carry out some research on the internet.

I discovered that in a small minority of people it causes a severe allergic reaction such as vomiting, diorrhea and difficulty breathing.

There is no warning on the packaging and the small probability of an allergic reaction is not well known.

I have no problem with other types of food and will eat anything but I definitely won't be eating Quorn again.

I just wanted to let people know that there is a small chance that it may cause an allergic reaction.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on June 04, 2010:

Hi Katy. I've never tried the pate, nor the vegetarian scotch eggs. They don't inspire me either though perhaps I should make the effort in the interests of good research?

Katy on June 04, 2010:

I absolutely agree! Infact yesterday I even emailed the Quorn brand to suggest things were getting a little too meat like! Couldn't eat their pate yesterday as looked and (I imagine) tasted just like a slithery meat pate.

Making food look and taste just like what we DON'T want to eat is very strange logic indeed and very off putting.

Thanks for the post :)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 10, 2009:

TVP has strange effects on me at any time of the day, though I've never noticed any strange dreams after eating it. I'll watch out for that in future.

kingbyname from south devon, uk on December 09, 2009:

Very interesting hub. Am a vegetarian too although guilty of the odd lapse. I eat fish occasionally but would draw the line at fish-substitute - even the sound of it has put me off. And another thing - eating veggie mince too late at night has the same effect as a cheese supper - it can produce some very strange dreams. There must be a reason for this or is it just me?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 09, 2009:

Hi Suki, I have friends in central Spain and once went to a wedding there. I ate a lot of 'patatas fritas' that week!

Barbara C from Andalucia, Spain on December 07, 2009:

ha-ha Amanda - I don't think I will check it out, I'm not brave enough!

(I don't think it'd go down very well in Spain either - in the south, where I live, they find the concept of vegetarianism very odd, and, considering that we are surrounded by fields of fresh fruit & veg, in most restaurants you are served a watery, mush of frozen veg to go with your enormous slab of meat & inevitable chips!)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on December 04, 2009:

Hi Suki, you should check out the Quorn web-site if you find the name off-putting. I do use Quorn, but the idea of these tiny fungi growing in trays, did very nearly put me off!

Barbara C from Andalucia, Spain on December 04, 2009:

I'm not a vegetarian but I eat mainly vegetables and pulses - almost there :).

I always think that those subsitute bacon rashers look extremely strange and for some reason I find the thought of quorn very off-putting (I think it's mainly the name!)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 02, 2009:

Hi Suzanne, I'm bewildered by the amount of choice there is available now. You can even buy pretend sliced meat for sandwiches! I guess it must appeal to someone, or they'd not be making it.

justmesuzanne from Texas on November 02, 2009:

I agree with you. Meat substitutes are generally rather odd!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 30, 2009:

Hi Amanda, I've not come across this type of research, but all the reading I've done regarding Candida overgrowth tends to implicate use of strong anti-biotics and high sugar/carbohydrate diets.

Amanda Bradbury on September 29, 2009:

Hi Very useful site. Veggie for 25 years and only buy meat alternatives for visiting non veggie family. Anyone know of reaserch known of looking at link with veggie diets high in TVP / Quorn and overload of Candida and yeast infections?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 09, 2009:

Hi Ralwus, good to see you around on hubpages once more, even if you are being cheeky about vegans! LOL! Personally I'd make a poor vegan as I enjoy cheese far too much, plus it's far too disciplined. Are you sure it was meat that increased the size of man's brain? I know some pretty big meat eaters, with desparately small brains.....

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 09, 2009:

Hi Lisa, I've only ever tried the fake cold cuts once, and I have to admit that it wasn't my cup of tea. I do use the sausages though. I generally make up a big batch of batter for toad in the hole and divide it between two baking tins, one veggie and one meaty. That way the whole family gets to eat the same dinner. The sausages are also great for family barbecues. I'm not so keen on the burgers though.

ralwus on September 09, 2009:

I have a theory that vegans are in reverse evolution mode. They will eventually revert to being more ape like since it was meat that increased early man's brain size. ;) any strange hairs growing yet in places you don't want them? LOL

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on September 08, 2009:

I'm just as happy with vegetarian foods that don't mimic meat; but then again, some of the "fake" sausages, bacon, hot dogs, and other products are really good (especially if cooked the right way). So, I guess I vote for "yes - mimic meat" (but not always necessary). I also like some of the "fake cold cuts". Trying any new one, though, can be a gamble. Some of them are every bit as creepy-feeling as meat. :)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi Sarah m Marie, I agree that the odd veggie meal would do everyone some good, but there are some hard-line carnivores out there! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Sarah m Marie on September 08, 2009:

I also am a lacto-vegetarian and have had this debate with others. I agree there are a wide variety of foods to choose from so pretend meat is really not necessary most of the time. Actually, some veggie based meals would do most of us a lot of good! Thanks for the article.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi sunforged, I think we're possibly in agreement here. I haven't had Morning Star Buffalo Wings, but the veggie hot dogs are quite tasty. Mind you, I'm not sure how much actual real meat is in hot dogs anyway! LOL!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi Sufi, I'm not sure that Quorn sausages actually taste like meat, but it's been a while for me too! Obviously people must eat what suits them best, and if meat alikes help them to make the transition to vegetarianism, than I guess that's fair enough. It's just that vegetarian food can be so imaginative and delicious that it seems a shame to choose a meat-alike in preference. Having said that, my 14 year old would probably be beating the drum for the pretend meat, as she loves Linda McCartney bangers and quorn kievs!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi Vizey, I agree that the picture looks delicious, and I could certainly enjoy having that for dinner, but for the most part I do more traditional vegetarian cooking at home, and save the veggie sausages for toad-in-the-hole and barbecues!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi Elena, Veggies are not well-tolerated in continental Europe in my experience! As to the whole meat substitute thing, Quorn is the least potentially Vegan friendly of the three examples as it is bound with egg albumen. Obviously that's not a problem for veggies, but vegans are much stricter about animal produce.

sunforged from on September 08, 2009:

Im interested to see how the poll works out, if it wasn't for morningstar farms buffalo wings, I never would have been able to make the switch myself. But other than veggie hot dogs, I really dont enjoy any of the mock meats

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi RNMSN, you sound as though you need to stay a carnivore, for your health's sake at least. I've heard of other vegetarians returning to a meat diet for similar reasons. I guess it doesn't suit everyone. As to the Quorn, it's very popular over here, particularly amongst dieters as it behaves like meat, but without a high calorie count.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 08, 2009:

Hi CreativeOne, glad you found the info interesting.

Sufidreamer from Sparti, Greece on September 08, 2009:

Thought provoking Hub, Amanda

This debate has been running for many, many years - I turned veggie 20 years ago and have had many people state that if you eat meat substitutes, you might as well not bother being veggie. Kind of misses the point, really - no dead animals are involved with substitute meat.

Many veggies love the taste of meat but are prepared to give up something that they enjoy for ethical reasons. Never understood why that is a problem to people - if a veggie enjoys Quorn sausages, then they should be able to enjoy them without judgement.

Great Hub :)

Vizey on September 07, 2009:

The picture you have posted on the page is truly tasty, I can say for sure. As far as your question is concerned, Amanda, IF you are an vegetarian, you can substitute meat with soya beans, spinach etc.

Elena. from Madrid on September 07, 2009:

Hello, Amanda. I admit I'm vastly ignorant about meat subsitutes (well, not so much anymore, thanks to your article!) but there's something I never grasped, why a vegetarian would have a wish for meant substitutes to begin with. Answer #2 in your poll is a fairly good reason, I admit :) Anyhow, I think I need to bookmark this hub for those occasions where I get into an argument about meat substitues and "vegganism" and what now :-)

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on September 07, 2009:

great hub as always amanda! I've never heard of quorn!

I have done the no red meat twice, for three years both times but even though I know how to eat; actually eating it? health did not do well, the worst was my hair falling out...widows peaks are cool until that's all you have !!

Benny Faye Ashton Douglass from Gold Canyon, Arizona on September 07, 2009:

Thank you fro a straight up hub vegetables and imitation meat. although, I'm a meat eater, I can appreciate the informative info on vegetarian food that mimics meat. well done. creativeone59

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

Vodka flavoured water for ex-alcoholics! LOL! When you put it like that it makes imitation meat seem even more ridiculous. It's all a bit condescending really, as though us poor veggies shouldn't have to suffer without meat.

Mrvoodoo from ? on September 07, 2009:

Hehehe, loved this, it's one of those thoughts that you only think of when somebody else has thought of it first.

The idea of making vegetarian products that look like meat is crazy really, although I see your point about being convenient for meals such as Toad in the hole. Great Hub. =)

* How about Vodka flavored water for recovering alcoholics?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

It's Paul McCartney's ex-missus, Heather Mills that has that restaurant. She lives a few hundred yards away, on Hove seafront. And yes I think I know what you mean about painful moments with TVP mince. Too much TVP could seriously damage the ozone layer, if our household is anything to go by!

Barbara from Stepping past clutter on September 07, 2009:

I remember painful moments with TVP while camping in the Boundary Waters for a month. Ugh. The thought makes my stomach turn. I prefer my food taste like what it is, not to mimic other food types. I like originality in all things, lol. This is why I love your hubs! And btw, I don't know who that famous singer is even when I did click on the link. Fat... something? Not exactly a name for a vegan, from my experience!?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

Robert, you're a shocker!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

Hi Knell, Pizza with gravy! LOL! My Mum once made me a nutroast with lard instead of olive oil! I'm sure that our mothers had our best interests at heart! When I stopped eating meat, my Mum predicted that I would become emaciated and anaemic. Well it hasn't happened so far!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

Hi Brian, I hadn't associated Rank Xerox with RHM, but I guess that makes sense. Lord Rank certainly spread himself about! As to the sun-dried tomatoes, I'm quite partial myself!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 07, 2009:

Hi Shalini, Indian cooking has some great vegetarian classics. Lucky you, living in the land of spice and fabulous fruit and vegetables! We have friends (he Indian, she English) who sometimes have us round for a home made curry, and it's always really tasty.

diogenes on September 07, 2009:

Professional and interesting as usual, Amanda. I had thought quorn was a female quorum! It's amazing how a veggie will fill in when meat is not availble, though, I mean, take the cucumber for instances!

OK, I'll behave!


knell63 from Umbria, Italy on September 07, 2009:

I totally agree with you but as someone who hasn't eaten anything with a face since the early 80's you'd expect that. I don't know why people think you somehow miss meat and secretly must need it. My mum once put meat gravy on a pizza in the hope that it would do me good. Spoilt the pizza that's all.

Brian Stephens from Laroque des Alberes, France on September 07, 2009:

It doesn't have to look like meat for me, I just enjoy the alternative texture and there are vegetable options that do that nicely, sun dried tomatoes for example. No I can't see the point other than for convenience as you have already mentioned. Good hub, I used to work for Rank Xerox by the way.

Shalini Kagal from India on September 07, 2009:

Very comprehensive hub Amanda - I try and keep my meat eating down to a minimum but I really don't think that meat-looking and tasting substitutes are really necessary!

I do agree with you - the more of us that cut out meat the better!

Related Articles