half Impossible burger half Impossible burger Critics are raving about the Impossible Burger's authenticity and how closely it resembles real burger meat. (Photo: Impossible Foods)

Move over, beef: New plant-based proteins are healthy and tasty

There's no shortage of products that deliver protein from sources other than meat. Which ones are best for you?

Despite what your mother might have told you, you can actually get protein from sources other than meat. From superfood grains like quinoa to leafy greens like spinach, there's a vast assortment of foods out there to hang your protein hat on. And now, even the tech world is getting involved, with innovative plant-based protein products being taken out of the lab and onto your table. It's all part of a tireless quest to get as close as possible to the flavor and texture of real meat without using any animal products. Here are a few of our favorites.

Chickpea protein

chickpeas in a bowlChickpeas are also known as garbanzo beans. (Photo: margouillat photo/Shutterstock)

There are several ways to use the chickpea as a protein. One is, quite simply, eating them, just like you would a side dish of baked beans or in a soup or salad. There's also the great Mediterranean tradition of grinding them up, mixing them with tahini and garlic – and boom – you have hummus. You can ball them up and fry them into falafel too. You can use the broth that forms from soaking or cooking chickpeas, called aquafaba, as an almost-magical substitute for eggs. And, you can roast them for a fun, healthy snack.

And with a legume that's got this much potential, it was inevitable that the tech world would rush in to tap it. CHiCK.P, a startup out of Israel, is currently trying to enter the plant-based protein market with its exclusive concentrate of 60-90% protein. The company is in talks to launch its formula from pilot to commercial status, so you could be seeing it listed as an ingredient in meat substitutes, dairy alternatives, beverages, snacks and pastries in the near future.


The Impossible Burger

What makes meat meaty? Is it the juiciness? The way it turns from red to brown when cooked? What if that same effect can be replicated in an entirely vegan biochemical process, to create a burger that bleeds like the real thing?

If anyone can do it, Silicon Valley can. And they have, with a company called Impossible Foods. This innovative culinary creation is the brainchild of Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown, renowned vegan Israeli chef Tal Ronnen and cheese maker Monte Casino from Le Cordon Bleu in Boston. The company uses a plant-based heme protein to replicate the meaty taste and juicy texture in its burgers.

It's already being offered in restaurants from coast to coast, to incredulous customers who just can't believe it's not real meat. Even Momofuku chef David Chang, who served the burger, said he was "genuinely blown away."


Mankai protein

green smoothies with purple strawsHinoman's Mankai protein plant could be the ingredient you're missing in your green smoothie. (Photo: Life morning/Shutterstock)

If you're an entrepreneur who also happens to be a very picky eater, you have two options: keep looking for foods you like from the existing selection, or make new ones. The folks at Hinoman, an Israel-based agro firm, did the latter.

Thus was the genesis of Mankai, a high-protein strain of duckweed grown in shallow water that utilizes 10 times less water to grow as a crop compared to soy, kale and spinach. It's fully plant-based, and its developers hope it emerges as an efficient and convenient option for health- and earth-conscious consumers.


Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat veggie burgerIf you're looking for the next great veggie burger, Beyond Meat could be it. (Photo: Beyond Meat)

Using soy protein as a meat substitute is a tried-and-true method that's allowed parents everywhere to consistently trick their kids into eating vegetables. The chicken strips from El Segundo, Calif.-based Beyond Meat, currently flying off the shelves at your neighborhood Whole Foods, are the favorite of athletes and busy parents alike, made of clean soy and pea blends and providing more protein per serving than actual chicken.

And the reviews are promising. Business Insider said Beyond Meat's burgers don't taste exactly like beef, but the texture is precise, and overall it's definitely more burger-like than your run-of-the-mill veggie burger.

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