It’s no secret that plant-based food has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. Neilsen, a data analytics firm, reported that U.S. retail sales of plant-based food increased 20% in dollar value between 2017 and 2018, topping $3.3 billion. In comparison, sales of all food grew just 2% during the same period. And while sales of dairy alternatives grew the most (by 50%), plant-based meat alternatives saw a significant increase of 24% year over year.

Faux meat isn’t new. Tofurky, for example, has been around since 1995. But lots of new research and development means that vegans, vegetarians, and people aiming to reduce their intake of meat don’t have to give up the textures and flavors associated with it. Faux meat isn’t just an alternative anymore — it’s a tasty alternative.

The Faux Meat Snack Trend

Each year, grocers share their food trend predictions. Faux meat snacks made it onto Whole Foods Market’s list for 2019 trends to watch (and try), and it’s not difficult to understand why. Snacks commonly associated with corner stores and gas stations — things like jerkies and pork rinds — are being reinvented sans meat. But rather than being filled with preservatives and other questionable ingredients, they’re relying on natural items like mushrooms and coconut.

The flavor and texture of mushrooms make them perfect for use in snacks like ‘pork’ rinds and ‘bacon’ snacks. And while a gluten-free, vegan chicharrón made from fresh vegetables might seem too good to be true, one Washington, DC-based company has done it. They’re also great for jerky, since they’re meaty enough to replicate the traditional texture and can easily take on a teriyaki taste.

Coconut is also a key player in the faux meat trend. Dehydrated coconut and spices make for an excellent snack — and depending on how its dehydrated, its texture might fall somewhere between a jerky and a chip  It’s naturally vegan, paleo, gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free, and loaded with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. When smoked, coconut also makes a great substitute for bacon.

Cautions About Faux Meat

The thing about plant-based foods is that they’re often perceived as being healthy — after all, they come from plants. But it’s critical to read the ingredients on faux meat (and, indeed, just about every other product you buy). While some brands might be made using whole foods and no additives or preservatives, others are nothing but overly-processed food-like products with little to nothing to offer in the way of nutritional value.

Consider, for example, the ingredients of one faux meat burger: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavours, and gum arabic. There’s nothing innately healthy about any of these, except perhaps coconut oil (which, ideally, should be virgin instead of refined).

So, if you’re looking for a quick, meatless replacement for a pork hot dog, a faux meat hotdog might do the trick. But if your reason for going plant-based is improved health and wellness, it’s important to do your research and know what you’re getting when you choose faux meat products. In many cases, it’s probably healthier to find some go-to recipes and whip up some plant-powered meals (and snacks) at home.

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