Going vegan is a great decision for your health and for the health of the planet. However, sometimes you just need a big juicy beef steak and no amount of tofurkey is going to cut it. Meat cravings are terrible to deal with when you’re vegan because they come scarily close to making you fall off the vegan train. When you experience these cravings, simply trying to ignore them won’t help, that might even make things worse. Here are a few ways you can cope with meat cravings the next time you’re dreaming of fried chicken.
1. Understand Why They’re There
Cravings don’t just come along randomly, there’s always a reason behind them. One of the biggest reasons for why we crave meat is because meat produces an opiate-like substance that fosters dependence in the same way many drugs do. These substances are also found in sugar and dairy, so if you’ve sworn off these foods as well, then you might also be craving them very badly. But once we stay away from these foods for a while, our dependence on them automatically lessens. We might also be craving meat because of the memories we have associated with it. With the holiday season here, we might be getting nostalgic about the many happy family dinners we had, with meat always the center point of every meal. When you try to see the rationale behind your cravings, it’s much easier to tackle them.
2. Add Some Umami
Another reason why you might be craving meat is not for the meat itself, but for the taste of umami. Umami is an elusive fifth taste, apart from bitter, sour, sweet and salty. We might have developed a taste for umami right from our infancy because breast milk contains glutamate, which provides umami. Most meaty dishes like anchovies, salted fish, cheese and caramelized meat are high in umami. If your taste buds have gotten used to umami, then food without it can taste bland and unsatisfying. Luckily there are plenty of vegan ways to add umami to your dish. Miso paste has long been used in Japanese cuisine to bring umami to dishes. It’s fully vegan and will change the way your food tastes completely.
3. Experiment With Meat Replacements
When you’re so used to chewing on meaty foods, the taste of vegetables alone might not be enough to satiate you. However, going vegan doesn’t just mean eating only vegetables. There are plenty of different ingredients you can play around with which can give you the same satisfaction as meat. Asian cuisines especially have perfected the art of meatless hearty ingredients. Seitan is a tough, wheat-based food that tastes very similar to beef. It has the same chewy texture and needs to be cut with a knife and fork, which can help you trick your brain into thinking it’s meat. However, if you’re gluten-free, then seitan isn’t the best option for you. Extra-firm tofu is a great gluten-free ingredient which is versatile, absorbs flavor and has a similar texture to chicken. Tempeh is another great ingredient you can cook with when you feel like eating meat. When you’re looking for meat replacements, it’s important you don’t buy highly processed meat imitations because they’re high in sodium and are far from healthy.
4. Find ‘Meaty’ Vegetables
There are plenty of vegetables that mimic the texture of meat. Mushroom is a very popular choice because it contains many nutrients that vegans need, and it also has a meaty flavor. Portobello mushrooms can be used in almost any recipe that calls for beef. Its chewy texture and earthy flavor ensure that you won’t be missing meat very much. Eggplant can also work well as a meat replacement when it’s roasted. A more unusual ingredient you might have not heard of is jackfruit. Jackfruit is technically a fruit, but it’s more savory than sweet. It also has the same fibrous texture as meat, so it works very well as a meat substitute.
5. Use Meat Seasonings
Meat seasoning might be marketed for meat, but it’s completely vegan. Because we associate the taste of these flavors with meaty food, using them on vegan ingredients can trick your brain into thinking it’s actually meat. You don’t have to buy packaged seasonings, you can make by yourself too. If you’re vegan, one of the first things you need is an extensive spice collection to make sure your food never tastes bland and boring. You can combine some of the spices you associate with meat and add it to your vegan food. For example, allspice, black pepper, sage and thyme are commonly used in poultry. Paprika, cumin, oregano and chili powder are often used as a spice rub for beef. You can use it in the same way for seitan for a meaty meatless meal.
6. Create ‘Meaty’ Broths
If your recipe calls for a poultry-based broth, don’t give up. You can search a vegan store for beef-flavored or chicken-flavored broth cubes, which will give your broth a meaty taste. You can also try your hand at making your own broth if you have the ingredients. A combination of flavorful sauces can elevate your dish and make it far from bland. Tamari, soy sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce and red wine, or balsamic vinegar can give you an amazing base for your recipes.
7. Combine Ingredients Smartly
Certain flavors and ingredients can mimic the taste of meat. Tomato sauces and seitan, for example, make the dish taste a lot more like beef. Cooking techniques like braising and caramelizing, which are often used when cooking meat, can also help meatless food taste meaty. Vegan Worcestershire sauce is one of the most important ingredients to have in your pantry. Adding it to almost any food can make them taste more like meat. If you can’t find vegan Worcestershire sauce, then you can mix tamari and balsamic vinegar for a close substitute.