Vegetarian meat is food made from soy or wheat products used to replicate the taste and texture of actual meat. The most commonly known vegetarian meat product is a vegetarian, or veggie, burger made from textured vegetable protein (TVP), a cholesterol-free meat substitute. TVP is typically made by extracting oil from soy flour to create flakes that when re-constituted with water, can be used in any recipe calling for hamburger or ground meat. TVP is high in protein and fiber and often has a tenth of the fat found in ground beef.
Another form of vegetarian meat is called seitan, or wheat gluten. Seitan is made from a process of removing starch from wheat flour, resulting in a chewy meat-like texture. Like tofu or TVP, it absorbs any flavor or marinade and can be shaped into patties, ribs, or even a roast. Vegetarians who want to have a traditional American Thanksgiving may substitute turkey with a vegetarian meat product, such as a seitan roast flavored with mushroom broth for an extra meaty flavor.
There are several reasons vegetarians choose to not eat meat and sometimes dairy products as well. One is if a person has special dietary needs and must watch fat and cholesterol intake. Others may choose vegetarianism out of concern for the treatment and welfare of animals or the environmental impact of raising and slaughtering animals for food. For some, such as the followers of some types of Buddhism, vegetarianism is a religious obligation.
There are a lot of products in grocery and health food stores that cater to people looking for vegetarian meat substitutes but who also want to enjoy the foods they grew up with. There are vegetarian bacon strips and meatloaf made from soy and home-style food, such as Italian sausage or meatballs, made from TVP.
There are also vegetarian restaurants that serve traditional Western style food, but use vegetarian meat substitutes in the recipes. Some of these restaurants specialize in a particular kind of cuisine. Chinese restaurants often have a large selection of vegetarian meat dishes, including mock duck, vegetarian chicken and vegetarian fish, all made from wheat gluten. Jewish dairy restaurants, although less common, provide vegetarian meat dishes such as a vegetarian loaf made from grains and nuts for patrons who will not eat milk and meat in accordance with Jewish dietary laws.