With the commercial success of meatless patties such as Boca Burgers and Gardenburgers, non-vegetarians and vegetarians alike now have regular access to beef and chicken alternatives. Before the introduction of these mainstream meatless patties, however, vegetarians and strict vegans have been using soy-based or grain-based forms of meatless patties for years. There are a number of types of meatless patties available for those seeking a healthier alternative to ground beef hamburgers or other red meats.
One popular form of meatless patties is called tofu, a soft product derived from the curd of soybeans. The liquidy curd is pressed from the soybean itself and mixed with a form of mineral salt (gypsum or magnesium chloride is common). The salt causes the solids of the curd to coagulate into a finished cake of tofu, much like milk coagulates into cheese when rennet is added. This tofu cake is often sliced to form meatless patties, which are either grilled or pan-fried until thoroughly heated.
Another form of meatless patties comes from a similar soy-based product called tempeh. Tempeh is not processed in the same way as tofu, however. Cooked soybean paste and occasionally grains such as rice or millet are combined with a cultured form of mold. After a few days of fermentation, the healthy mold bonds with the soy paste to form tempeh. Tempeh can be sliced into meatless patties or other shapes for use in vegetarian recipes. Tempeh has an advantage over tofu in that it does contain vitamin B-12, an essential vitamin often missing in meatless diets.
Through an extrusion process, soybeans can also be converted into a product called texturized vegetable protein, or TVP. TVP is the essential ingredient in commercial meatless patties such as Boca Burgers. TVP can also be used as a substitute for meat in a number of other vegetarian meals. Meatless patties made from TVP usually have the chewy texture and satisfying mouthfeel of ground beef hamburgers, and are often flavored with spices or meat-based extracts to duplicate the taste of ground beef hamburgers.
For those who seek a more vegan approach to meatless patties, there are a number of recipes which use nuts, vegetables and grains as a base. The popular commercial meatless patties sold by Gardenburger are examples of vegetable/grain burgers. Typical Gardenburger-style meatless patties are formed from a mixture of garden vegetables, nuts and oatmeal. A binder such as egg whites or cornstarch may also be used, although strict vegans may want to avoid the use of eggs. These meatless patties are not intended to taste like ground beef hamburgers, but have a certain flavor appeal of their own.
Some cultures use ground beans or chickpeas to form meatless patties. A popular Middle Eastern dish called falafel uses ground chickpeas and spices to create a sandwich filling similar to meatballs. Some vegetarians do not restrict seafood from their diets, so meatless patties formed from salmon or other types of fish may be acceptable substitutes for hamburgers and chicken.