The popularity of plant-based diets has exploded in recent years, and when you look under the hood, it’s easy to understand their appeal. After all, plant-based foods contain zero cholesterol, less saturated fat, and often far fewer calories than their traditional counterparts. Following a vegan diet has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. Plus, eating less meat isn’t just good for your waistline — it’s good for the planet. Widespread adoption of vegan and vegetarian diets would have the effect of dramatically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. If you can’t imagine cutting meat from your diet, we have good news. Thanks to an unprecedented influx of venture capital by investors like Bill Gates, and an army of entrepreneurs and dedicated food scientists, dozens of incredibly convincing plant-based dairy and meat substitutes are flooding the market. Here, we pick our favorites.
Best Burger: Impossible Burger
Made from ingredients that include coconut oil, wheat and potato proteins, and plant-based “heme” that sizzles when grilled just like an old-fashioned burger, the Impossible Burger is so convincing in both taste and texture that it could satisfy even the most committed carnivore. It’s now available in thousands of restaurants across the country, including White Castle, which recently introduced the Impossible Slider in 140 locations in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago.
Best Sausage: Beyond Sausage
Available in original, sweet, or hot Italian flavors, the Beyond Sausage recently hit Whole Foods stores nationwide — just in time for grilling season. There’s a satisfying snap when you bite through the algae-based sausage casing, and the sausage itself is plump, juicy, and meaty in all the right ways. Each 100 percent plant-based sausage has 16 grams of plant protein with no GMOs, soy, or gluten. (Beyond also makes their own convincing burger substitute, which has quickly become a top seller in grocery stores and restaurants nationwide).
Best Sushi: Ocean Hugger Foods Ahimi
By sight alone, you’ll never guess that Ocean Hugger Food’s tomato-based Ahimi is not actual sashimi. The company’s proprietary processing technique and simple five-ingredient recipe (tomato, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and filtered water), result in a reddish “flesh” that’s firm with distinctly tuna-like umami flavor, especially when paired with soy sauce, wasabi, and the other trimmings. Next on the menu, the company is working on products to mimic eel and salmon.
Best Cheese: Kite Hill
There are as many cheese alternatives as there are actual cheeses, including tasty, meltable slices from companies such as Chao, Follow Your Heart, and Daiya, but Kite Hill, a company out of Hayward, California, takes things to a different level altogether. Employing traditional cheese-making techniques but with nut-based milks rather than dairy, the company is churning out an ever-expanding product line that includes mild ricotta, tangy yogurt, and what just might be the most delicious and creamiest cream cheese on the market, bar none.
Best Milk: Oatly
By now most people are familiar with soy, almond, cashew, and coconut milks, but oat milk just might have them all beat. Every serving of their oat-based milk has nearly one gram of fiber and the same Beta-glucans that makes oatmeal so darn heart-healthy. And it’s not just good for you — the company’s barista edition has quickly become de rigueur among baristas in the know for its mild flavor and uncanny ability to foam up just like dairy in lattes (ask your local independent coffee shop). Oatly also makes hummus-style oat spreads, “oatgurt,” and even ice creams.
Tate Gunnerson is a Chicago-based freelance journalist with an equal appreciation for natural beauty and good design. He is a passionate supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Kidney Foundation.