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Chris's Ultimate Guide to the Best Plant-based Alternatives

July 7, 2021
Time to read: 14 minutes

When fast-food companies like Burger King and Carl’s Jr. make plant-based meats a permanent fixture on their menus, and more and more meat-dominated establishments like KFC are rolling out plant-based options, you know the times they are a-changin’.

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If you ask anyone what it was like going vegan “back-in-the-day,” they may respond by recalling the horrors of frozen veggie patties that bore an eerie resemblance to cardboard, and vegan cheese that was like Silly Putty rather than a topping for pizza. Restaurants laughed when you asked if they had options without any meat, and at barbecues you would be cast out to a distant, dark corner, left to joylessly gnaw at a stalk of raw broccoli while your friends merrily feasted before you.

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. But my point is that the vegan food game has exploded in recent years, introducing a new era of vegan meats, cheeses, milks, and other products that vegans of yesteryear could only fantasize about. As of 2021, the Good Food Institute estimated the plant-based food sector to be worth $7 billion, and some researchers predict the sector will be worth $95 billion by 2029. 

When fast-food companies like Burger King and Carl’s Jr. make plant-based meats a permanent fixture on their menus, and more and more meat-dominated establishments like KFC are rolling out plant-based options, you know the times they are a-changin’.  

Here is my ultimate guide to the best vegan products you can find in grocery stores across the country. (This isn’t a complete guide by any means, but rather a list of my favorite and the most readily-available brands that I’ve found in my experience since going vegan six years ago).

Meat Alternatives

Burgers

  • Beyond Burger: There have been a lot of imitators since Beyond Meat introduced their groundbreaking burgers in 2016. But they’ve continually tweaked the recipe since then and their burgers are still arguably the tastiest and most likely to win over your non-vegan friends.
  • Impossible Burger: Another big brand that has become increasingly popular alongside Beyond in restaurants and grocery stores. There’s almost no distinguishing this beef from “the real thing.”
  • Gardein Ultimate Beefless Burger: A greasy, flavorful patty that makes a perfect fast-food style burger.
  • Hilary’s Ultimate Veggie Burger: Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a classic veggie burger that isn’t trying to be beef. These burgers are flavorful and better for you!

Ground Beef

  • Boca Original Veggie Crumbles: Season and cook just like beef for a perfect taco filling from this OG brand.
  • Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles: Like Boca, a widely-available brand that makes a simple crumble that’s a blank-slate for any flavors you want to add.
  • Gardein The Ultimate Beefless Ground: Another great option with a good texture.
  • Beyond Meat Beyond Beef Crumbles: Soy- and gluten-free crumbles in seasoned and unseasoned varieties.
  • Yves Original Veggie Ground Round: Yves has been in the plant-based game for a while and are known for their quality products at a lower price point. 
  • LightLife Smart ground Plant-Based Crumbles: Another option you’ll find in the refrigerated plant-based section. LightLife also now makes frozen Plant-Based Ground that resembles the strands of traditional ground beef.
  • Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles: A simple soy-based crumble similar to other brands that you can find at your local Kroger-brand grocery store.

Hot Dogs/Brats

  • Beyond Sausage: Like their burgers but even more impressive! These juicy links come in tasty Brat, Hot Italian, and Sweet Italian varieties. Like with their burgers, there are quite a few imitators out there now, but none match the juiciness and flavor of Beyond.
  • Impossible Sausage: Impossible recently launched their own bratwurst product, and just like their burgers, the taste and texture is spot-on.
  • Tofurky: These soy- and wheat-based sausages won’t fool anyone into thinking they’re eating “real meat,” but they are delicious in their own right and great chopped up into pasta or other dishes.
  • Field Roast: Like Tofurky’s sausages, Fieldroast isn’t trying to mimic “the real thing,” but they are delicious and still have that satisfying meaty texture. I recommend the Frankfurter for a top-notch, ballpark-style experience. Or try their flavorful sausage links in flavors like Smoked Apple Sage and Mexican Chipotle.
  • Lightlife Smart Dogs: The perfect replacement for the classic American hot dog, these are great for barbeques and camping.

Deli Meat 

  • Tofurky Deli Slices: These have been around for awhile, but they’re still some of the best. Try the Hickory Smoked and Peppered flavors!
  • Yves Veggie Cuisine: This brand has been around the block too, and these vegan deli meats make a delicious sandwich for a lower price.
  • Simple Truth and 365 Foods Deli Slices: As with many of these product categories, grocery giants like Kroger and Whole Foods have rolled out their own options, often at a lower price point.

Breakfast Sausage

  • Gardein Original Breakfast Saus’age Patties: Simple, tasty breakfast patties that go perfectly on a breakfast sammie. 
  • Beyond Breakfast Sausage: Come in links or patties and are full of sausage-y flavor that will please any lover of breakfast sausage. Comes in a “spicy” version too!
  • Impossible Sausage: Available as pre-formed patties or in a tube so you can use it for any breakfast dish you’d like, and can choose from savory or spicy options.
  • LightLife Plant-Based Breakfast Links: A recent product from this brand, these links have a great sausage taste and even have a casing to provide that satisfying “snap.”
  • Hilary’s Meatless Breakfast Sausage: Much like their other products, if you’re looking for something a little different and healthier than your average meaty breakfast patty, these are full of flavor and still satisfy the sausage craving and won’t leave your stomach feeling so heavy.
  • Gimme Lean Sausage: If you grew up enjoying the Jimmy Dean tube of sausage, this is a perfect and affordable option to form your patties and spice up however you want.
  • Field Roast Apple Maple Breakfast Sausage: These little links are a tad on the pricey side, but great to enjoy as part of a hearty breakfast plate.

Bacon 

  • Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon: Delicious seitan strips that go great on a sandwich or as a side.
  • Hooray Foods Plant Based Bacon: One of the newest plant-based bacons to hit grocery shelves, these stand out for a unique look and texture that comes the closest to the animal product thanks to coconut oil and a simple list of other flavorful ingredients.
  • Lightlife “Fakin’ Bacon” Smoky Tempeh Strips: Tempeh is its own thing that many non-vegans aren’t acquainted with. Once you experience it, though, you might be hooked on the satisfying texture and smokey flavor. Tempeh bacon is especially good on BLT’s, or just on its own!
  • BeLeaf Vegan Bacon: Not as widely available as some of the other brands here, but BeLeaf has found a way to mimic that white “fatty” part of bacon in a pretty convincing way.
  • Lightlife Smart Bacon: Not the most exciting thing to be sure, but very affordable and does the job to fill that bacon-y craving.
  • McCormick Imitation Bacon Bits: Yep, those little bacon bits at the salad bar are 100% vegan! There are other brands of bits that are also animal-free, though there are others that are “real bacon”—just be sure to check the label.

Chicken

  • Gardein Ultimate Chick’n Filets: Chicken sandwiches are seriously popular these days, and this product from Gardein makes it possible to easily create a crispy
  • Boca Spicy Chik’n Veggie Patties: These fan-favorite patties come in spicy and original varieties. Also check out their nuggets.
  • Morningstar Farms Veggie Chik’n Nuggets: One of the most common meat alternative brands you can find. Most of their products are 100% vegan, but there are a handful of products that they are still working to make fully plant-based. Morningstar’s newest product line Incogmeato offers some impressively chicken-y products.
  • Tofurky Plant Based Chik’n: The perfect texture and cook-up amazingly when sauteed.
  • Alpha Foods Chik’n Nuggets: A very solid nugget from another new brand (try their strips too).
  • Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders: The breading is the secret to these delicious tenders (also check out their strips).
  • Sweet Earth Mindful Chik’n Strips: Sweet Earth’s products can be hit-or-miss, but this one seems to be a crowd pleaser.
  • Simple Truth Meatless Griller Strips: Kroger’s brand name option that works nicely in wraps and stir frys. 
  • Daring Foods Original Daring Pieces: Daring stands out from the pack with an impressive “shreddable” product, although at a higher price point than Morningstar. 
  • Upton’s Chick Seitan: Delicious, simple, and chewy seitan chik’n.

Fish/Seafood

  • Gardein Golden Fishless Filets: A very solid, fishy option that’s perfect for tacos and dipping in tartar sauce on their own.
  • Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Shrimp: These vegan prawns have an uncanny look and texture, and go great in stir frys. Sophie’s Kitchen has other tasty vegan seafood products like crabcakes and smoked salmon.
  • Good Catch Plant-Based Fish Burgers: These convenient patties deliver a great fishy flavor and pack a protein punch.

Holiday roasts

  • Field Roast Celebration Roast: A flavorful roast that you’ll be glad to serve for any holiday meal.
  • Tofurky Plant-Based Roast: The O.G. of plant-based holiday roasts, you can always count on this classic centerpiece to enjoy with your gravy and cranberry sauce (Tofurky also makes a tasty Ham-style roast).
  • Trader Joe’s Turkey-less Stuffed Roast: A very turkey-esque option in a shareable size. These roasts tend to go quickly during the holidays so grab yours early!
  • Gardein Holiday Roast: Comes with a savory cranberry stuffing and has that unique Gardein texture.

Jerky

  • Louisville Jerky Co: A crowd favorite with a perfect texture and unique flavors.
  • Beyond Jerky: One of Beyond’s newest products takes on the tough and chewy world that is jerky, and nails it.
  • Primal Strips Meatless Jerky: Sold as single-strips, these juicy strips are the perfect on-the-go snack.
  • Unisoy Vegan Jerky: Fans can’t get enough of their unique, Szechuan-style flavors.
  • Pan’s Mushroom Jerky: A welcome alternative to the soy and seitan meats that still hits all the right jerky notes.

Pork/Other

  • Gardein Sweet and Sour Porkless Bites: Another great product from Gardein—super easy to heat up and serve over some rice.
  • Field Roast Miniature Corn Dogs: Vegan corn-dogs are a little harder to come by (unless you live in LA, or really want to load up the oil and give it a go in your own kitchen), so these little bites are a fun treat to pick up (Morningstar Farms also makes a more traditional vegan corn dog).
  • The Jackfruit Company: For the uninitiated, jackfruit has been a staple in parts of southeast Asia for thousands of years, though has just recently gained popularity in the United States. It’s unique texture and neutral flavor makes it an excellent substitute for traditional shredded pork. 
  • Soyrizo: Just like the classic Mexican chorizo, this spicy, protein-packed product is the perfect swap for anything you would use traditional chorizo for (Trader Joes' also carries their own brand of soy chorizo).
  • Gardein Meatless Meatballs: Well-seasoned Italian style meatballs that are perfect in a sub or cooked in marinara sauce for pasta (many other companies like LightLife and Beyond have also jumped into the plant-based meatball game).
  • Yves Veggie Pepperoni: Pepperoni is all about the spices, and Yves makes the perfect product to throw on top of your pizza (LightLife and Sweet Earth also make good plant-based pepperoni products).

Dairy and Egg Alternatives

Milk

  • Silk Soy Milk: Soy has been a staple of cultures around the world for thousands of years, and soy milk is the “nutritional powerhouse” of plant-based milks, boasting more protein with a perfect creamy texture and pleasantly neutral taste.
  • Oatly Oat Milk: By now you’ve probably noticed the oat milk craze, and for good reason. Oatly makes a superior, neutral-flavored oat milk that’s perfectly creamy and has a hint of sweetness.
  • NotMilk: The newest trend with plant-based milks is to mimic the taste and texture of cow’s milk. NotMilk does a great job using really interesting ingredients that you would never guess are hiding in there, like pineapple and cabbage juices. Like another product in this category, Wondermilk, from the brand So Delicious, the milks come in 2% and full-fat, just like you would find with dairy milk.
  • Silk Cashew Milk: Cashews are a key ingredient in vegan cooking, from cheeses to creamy sauces. Cashew milk has a creamier texture and fuller flavor than almond milk.
  • Almond Breeze Almond Milk: A classic and affordable plant-based milk that may not have the creamy-factor of some other plant-based milks, but goes great on cereal, in smoothies or for baking (and don’t worry, it’s water footprint is still about half as much as  cow’s milk despite what you might have heard).
  • Califia Farms: Slightly more premium nut milk options boasting a simplified ingredient list. Try the toasted coconut or the cold brew coffee.
  • Good Karma Hemp Milk: It might be somewhat lacking in the nutrition department, but it has a pleasantly neutral taste and a creamier mouthfeel than almond milk.

Cheese Shreds & Slices

  • Follow Your Heart: Try the Smoked Gouda and Provolone. Great on burgers and sandwiches.
  • Violife: Excellent slices, shreds, and more unique products that will impress any cheese-lover, especially their feta and parmesan wedges.
  • Chao: Field Roast’s well-liked line of cheeses with unique flavors like Tomato Cayenne and Garden Herb.
  • Daiya: Daiya can be a polarizing brand in the vegan community, and has dominated the vegan cheese business for a long while. Some of their products will grow on you, some are delicious, and others you might want to avoid (I’m looking at you cream cheeze). I recommend their cheddar slices that melt better than any other brand for a gooey grilled cheese, and their shreds that make a nice-and-melty stack of nachos.

Cheese spreads & Dips

  • Miyoko’s Creamery: With cultured nut cheeses that changed the vegan cheese game, everyone will enjoy these savory spreads and dips. Pub-style chedda is one of my faves!
  • Boursin Dairy Free: The plant-based version of this popular brand does not disappoint—it’s buttery and herby, perfect for a warm baguette.
  • Simple Truth Plant-Based Queso Style Dip: A creamy, delicious, and more affordable dip that is great cold or warmed up like classic queso (apparently the secret ingredient here is butter beans).
  • Trader Joe’s Vegan Nacho Dip: A recent update to a previous plant-based cheese dip, this new nacho dip is extra creamy with a rich flavor that’s perfect used for a melty queso. 
  • Treeline Treenut Cheeses: Creamy and tangy satisfying almond milk dips.
  • The Honest Stand: Unique and delicious cashew and vegetable based dips, like Spicy Nacho, that are great heated up or cold. Plus, an ingredient list that will make you feel better about polishing the whole thing off in one sitting. (Can be found at Whole Foods.)
  • Kite Hill: Flavorful cashew cheeses that are perfect with crackers.
  • Siete Cashew Queso: Premium pricing, but a tasty treat to satisfy your Queso cravings.

Butter

  • Earth Balance: Great and easy-to-find spreads for your toast, or buttery sticks for baking.
  • Miyoko’s Creamery European Style Cultured Butter: A pleasant tangy taste that all fans of buttery things will enjoy.
  • Melt Organic: Another good spread option with a subtle coconut taste and organic ingredient list.
  • Country Crock Plant Butter: One of the best options from big brands that are offering more plant-based products. You can also check out the vegan options from brands like Smart Balance and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter: (Just make sure to check the label if it’s not clearly labeled plant-based or vegan).

Sour Cream and Cream Cheese

  • Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese: If you’re looking for some classic sour cream to dollop on your burrito, or cream cheese to cover your toasted bagel, look no further than the time-tested Tofutti.
  • Simple Truth Organic Sour Cream Alternative : Available at your local Kroger store, this lighter alternative for sour cream cuts back on the oils, but doesn’t sacrifice too much in flavor.
  • Kite Hill Cream Cheese Alternative: Kite Hill’s almond-based cream cheese are a slightly different experience than traditional cream cheese, but still very enjoyable, especially the flavored varieties (I would avoid their sour cream, or any coconut-based sour cream—unless you like your sour cream to have a coconut flavor).
  • Miyoko’s Creamery: Miyoko’s cheeses have a more premium price-tag and similarly to Kite Hill is a yummy, savory spread—just not quite like a traditional cream cheese.

Ice Cream

  • NadaMoo!: This Austin, Texas-based brand hits all the right notes: soft texture, creamy, and balanced flavors.
  • So Delicious: Tasty pints and ice cream with multiple bases to choose from (coconut, cashew, almond, soy)—we especially recommend the cashew-based options.
  • Ben & Jerry’s: You don’t have to give up any of your favorite flavors with classic Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy flavors like Cherry Garcia and Peanut Butter Half Baked (other name brands like Haagen Dazs also offer non-dairy versions of their ice creams).
  • Oatly: Just like with non-dairy milks, oat milk makes the perfect creamy ice cream base—and tastes a bit like oatmeal ice cream.
  • Van Leuwen Vegan Ice Cream: Van Leuwen has developed a devoted following for their premium and artisan ice creams, and they take their vegan options very seriously, with perfect textures and flavors.
  • Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy: If you happen to live next to a Trader Joe’s, you’ll want to add this one to your shopping list. Both the vanilla and cherry chocolate chip are extra creamy and might remind you of classic soft serve.
  • HaloTop: If you’re looking for a lighter option that still satisfies your ice-cream craving, this is a good one to pick up.

Whipped Cream

  • Reddi Whip Non-Dairy: The classic whipped cream in-a-can brand has two non-dairy options: coconut and almond. I recommend the creamier and richer coconut.
  • So Delicious cocowhip: Comes in a tub with “light” and “original” options (much like the classic CoolWhip). This coconut whipped-goodness is super creamy and might just convert some dairy whipped cream lovers.
  • Silk Dairy Free Heavy Whipping Cream Alternative: A great option for making homemade whipped cream, just like you would with any heavy whipping cream made from dairy.
  • 365 Oat-Based Whipped Topping: Oat milk makes a solid base for whipped cream that’s thicker and has a slightly nuttier flavor than almond milk for this Whole Foods brand. Sprouts also has a store-brand whipped oat cream.

Creamer

  • Silk Soy Creamer: I’ve tried a lot of different creamers over the years, and this is the one I always come back to.. It’s the creamiest, most similar to dairy-creamer, and mixes well in coffee or tea.
  • So Delicious Creamers: Available in coconut and oat milk varieties, with tasty flavors.
  • Califia Farms Oat Creamer: A close second in creaminess to soy.
  • Forager Organic Dairy-Free Half and Half: Creamy cashew milk and coconut cream base.
  • Ripple Plant-Based Half & Half: Made with Ripple’s creamy signature pea protein base.

Yogurt

  • Silk: The soymilk varieties are my favorite, but it’s also available in almond milk and oat milk. If you’re a fan of Greek yogurt, be sure to try Silk’s Greek Style coconut milk yogurt too!
  • So Delicious: The coconut options are creamy and rich, and the new oat milk flavors sound tasty too.
  • Kite Hill: Almond milk yogurts in classic flavors like Key Lime and Strawberry.
  • Forager: Cashew milk yogurt that everyone can get behind.
  • Oatly: From milk to ice cream to their “Oatgurt,” Oatly uses the creamy power of oats to full advantage.
  • Nancy’s Yogurt: Not an all-vegan brand, but try the Oatmilk or Cultured Soy non-dairy options.
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Creamy Cashew Yogurt Alternative: A fan-favorite item that hits all the right yogurt notes.
  • Culina Yogurt: Craft-fermented coconut yogurts with minimal processed ingredients that come in glass jars, so while more expensive, they are a better option if you want to reduce plastic packaging.

Other Alternative Dairy Products

  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Holiday Nog: When “nog” season rolls around, this is the one you want to grab for the creamy and thicker mouthfeel of traditional nog.
  • Daiya Dairy-Free Salad Dressings: Great dairy-free options that hit the mark for classic flavors like Blue Cheese, Hon’y Mustard and Creamy Caesar.
  • Simple Truth Plant-Based Alomndmilk Pudding: A childhood favorite for many, these almond milk puddings hit the spot and are available at all Kroger stores. Walmart and some other retailers also carry an almond milk pudding from the brand Zen.

Mayonnaise

  • Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise: Don’t let the name fool you. Follow Your Heart has been in the vegan mayo game for a long time, and their motto, “Better than Mayo” is the truth.
  • Just Mayo: This flagship product of Eat Just has become harder to find since the company shifted its focus to plant-based eggs and other products. But their mayo is the go-to brand for many mayo-lovers.
  • Simple Truth Plant Based Mayo Spread: Texture is a bit chunky and taste could be improved, but will do the trick on your burger or sandwich.
  • Best Foods Vegan Mayo: Best Foods recently changed its recipe for their vegan mayo and the new flavor is a bit off, but it will still do in a pinch.

Eggs

  • Just Egg Folded: One of the recent innovations from Eat Just, this product is a big improvement on their original liquid plant-based egg product—which is also a good product but can be pretty pricey for the quantity you get. Just pop the folded egg in the toaster for a perfect patty that fits nicely on a breakfast sandwich!
  • Follow Your Heart: This powder-based egg product takes a little more elbow-grease to whip up, but if you follow the directions and add some extra seasoning it makes a perfectly-eggy scramble or omelet.
  • BeLeaf Vegan Fried Egg: Not many companies have tackled a vegan fried egg product, but BeLeaf has made an impressive (if a little pricey) attempt—yolk and all!
  • Hodo All-Day Egg Scramble: Tofu makes a great substitute for eggs, especially chopped-up into a scramble. Hodo makes it even easier to enjoy this plant-based classic with a scramble you can just heat and eat! Amy’s also offers a frozen tofu scramble meal that even comes with veggies mixed in and hashbrowns on the side.

Chris Shapard is FFAC’s Communications Manger.

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