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Vegans do not eat any animal flesh or any product made from animals, including eggs or cheese. As much of typical Western cooking involves these products, such as hamburgers, a vegan must often substitute special ingredients to make similar dishes. Vegan ground beef is one of the ingredients available as a replacement for meat; this typically contains textured vegetable protein as a main constituent, which is made from soy. Various other vegan ingredients may be added to alter the flavor or texture of the product.
Textured vegetable protein is a dried product from the beans of the soy plant. Typically, the oil from the soybeans is removed, and the rest of the bean is dried and ground into flour. Manufacturers of the product subject the flour to heat to cook it, and then squash it together so the flour turns into larger pieces. The textured vegetable protein is formed into the particular shapes, such as flakes or grains, that the manufacturer wants to sell.
Regular ground beef is high in protein, and also has a specific texture. The texture of relatively small particles of food stuck together gives the patty in a hamburger a recognizable taste and feeling in the mouth. Vegan ground beef is also formed in small particles, which give the finished dish a similar feeling in the mouth. One major difference between textured vegetable protein and beef is that the vegan option often comes in a dried form that must be reconstituted with liquid before it can be cooked or eaten. This liquid can be flavored, such as vegetable broth, but water can also suffice.
Some vegan ground beef products contain only a few ingredients, such as the soy and flaked corn. Others have fats added, to further mimic the natural composition of ground beef. Seasonings like pepper and salt are also widely used. Spices and colors like caramel can differentiate vegan ground beef products from one another, for a particular look and taste. Sometimes binding substances like natural gums or seaweed are present in the product, and wheat gluten can also be in the food.
Soy is a food with a relatively high protein concentration compared to vegetables in general, so vegan ground beef with this as a base can help to provide a source of protein for vegans. As the textured vegetable protein also contains plant fiber, the ground beef substitute gives the diner much more fiber than a regular serving of ground beef. Levels of saturated fat are also lower in these vegan products, as vegetable fats tend not to contain saturated fats. The vegan ground beef option is suitable for all the regular ground beef dishes, from hamburgers to tacos.
Vegan ground beef crumbles, or veggie crumbles, are actually a very acceptable alternative for ground beef. I've used them in chili, vegetable soup, lasagna, spaghetti -- even Hamburger Helper!
One of the great things about veggie crumbles is you don't have to brown them before adding them to the dish. Add them when the ingredients are hot and let the crumbles heat through. It is surprising how much of the meat texture and mouth feel you get with these. I was pleasantly surprised when I tried them for the first time in spaghetti. Even my husband, a confirmed carnivore, ate them, and now eats veggie burgers on a regular basis. They are definitely worth a try.