Meat and Dairy Substitutes

Two of the most common questions people ask vegans and vegetarians are "where do you get your protein?" and "what do you eat?" There are many nutrionally complete and healthy veg diets that do not directly substitute certain animal products, but there are also a number of healthy, delicious veg foods that can stand in for ingredients like meat and milk.

Also be sure and visit the Veg Product guide for a list of store-bought products that can replace meat, dairy and eggs.

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Meat substitutes

[Courtesty of Healthwell / Patti Bess]

In the past few years, soy-based meat substitutes have sprung up everywhere. Some examples include tofu hot dogs, soy sausages, soy bacon bits and textured vegetable protein (TVP) - look for MSG-free varieties. Because soy foods in general are lower in fat than meats, they tend to stick on the grill or to a skillet. Avoid this by using cooking oil or a vegetable spray, and make sure the pan is hot before cooking. Also, choose organically grown soybean products to ensure products are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Many meaty recipes can use meat substitutes and maintain the savory taste and texture intended. Common substitutes include the following:


Tofu is soybean curd made from soy milk. Although somewhat bland by itself, it easily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients. A firm or extra-firm tofu can be used in stir-fries, for marinating and for baking. The soft or "silken" variety is creamier and is used primarily for dips, puddings and salad dressings.


Seitan has been used in Asia as a protein source and meat substitute for hundreds of years. It is made from a flour-and-water dough, which is rinsed to remove the starch components. What is left behind is a high-protein gluten. Sometimes called "wheat meat," seitan is available at natural products stores and Asian markets. Do not use if you are gluten-sensitive (see "Against the Grain").


Tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans and grains and then forming them into a cake. This Indonesian food has a yeasty, nutty flavor and is a good source of protein. Some chefs prefer the texture of tempeh over tofu for use as a chicken substitute.

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)

You may not have heard of TVP, but it is more common than you think. You've probably had it without knowing it. Many fast food chains use it in their products as a meat substitute for things like tacos meat and vegetarian dishes. Textured Vegetable Protein is made from soy bean flour, which can be flavored and formed into just about any texture or size needed. It is used for bacon bits, meat granules, or large pieces such as sausage and chicken pieces. There are many benefits to using Textured Vegetable Protein over meat: it's less expensive, it contains no animal fat, it's a complete soy-based protein, and it's quick and convenient.

Dairy substitutes

[Courtesty of HSUS and PETA]

Just as with the growth in availability of meat substitutes, alternatives to dairy products are also becoming much more mainstream, including substitutes for milk and all sorts of cheeses.

Many meaty recipes can use meat substitutes and maintain the savory taste and texture intended. Common substitutes include the following:

Use to Replace Milk

  • Chocolate, vanilla, or plain soy milk
  • Nut milk (made from almonds)
  • Rice milk (sweeter than soy milk)
  • Oat and mixed-grain milk
  • Use the above in baked goods, curries, and lighter cream soups and sauces; use oat milk or mixed-grain milk in baked goods, curries, and lighter cream soups and sauces.

Use to Replace Ice Cream

  • Frozen soy "ice creams" including those from Soy Delicious and Tofutti
  • Frozen sorbets and ices

Use to Replace Buttermilk

  • 1 cup plain non-dairy milk (soy, nut, rice, oat, or mixed grain milk) + 2 tsp. lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/4 cup silken tofu + 3/4 cup water + 1 Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar + pinch of salt (blended together)

Use to Replace Cheese

  • Soy cheese
  • Soft tofu + a dash of lemon juice instead of cottage or ricotta cheese in dips, sauces, smoothies, and pies
  • Smoked tofu instead of provolone and mozzarella
  • Oil-cured black olives instead of Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Nutritional yeast flakes

Use to Replace Butter (in recipes)

  • Soy margarine
  • 7/8 cup canola or corn oil = 1 cup butter
  • Saute instead in wine or vegetable broth.
  • Use lemon as a dressing

Egg substitutes

[Courtesty of HSUS and PETA]

A popular egg substitute is Ener-G egg replacer, which is make from potato starch, tapioca flour, leavening agents (calcium lactate, calcium carbonate, and citric acid) and a gum derived from cottonseed. It's primarily intended to replace the leavening/binding characteristics of eggs in baking, but it can be used for nonbaked foods and quiches.

Use to Replace Eggs

Each amount listed below will substitute one egg. The effectiveness of each substitute varies by recipe. The vegan chefs at the Post Punk Kitchen have an excellent page describing which substitutes work best in which recipes.

  • 2 oz of soft tofu can be blended (with some water to add consistency)
  • 2 oz. of mashed beans, mashed potatoes, or nut butters
  • 1/2 mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup applesauce or puréed fruit
  • 1 Tbsp flax seeds (found in natural food stores) with 3 Tbsp. water can be blended for 2 to 3 minutes, or boiled for 10 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved. (good in breads)
  • 1 tsp. soy flour plus 1 Tbsp. water
  • 2 oz soy yogurt