Plant-Based Jerky Is the Sustainable Snack of the Future
If you’re going camping or hiking or just need a snack to bring to work, jerky has long been the non-perishable and protein-dense standby. And as the world of plant-based food continues to grow, beef and turkey are no longer the only jerky options on the shelf.
Vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, reducetarians and all those looking to skip out on meat for health and other reasons have one more dried snack option as of late. A number of food startups are experimenting with preserving mushrooms, soybeans and other plants as jerky for quick and delicious nourishment on the go.
Since soy has been used as a meat alternative for decades and a central protein for far longer, it’s little surprise that several of the new, plant-based jerkies out there are made from it. Texas-based company All Yall’s Foods makes one such line, in a variety of Southwestern-inspired flavors like Prickly Pear Chipotle.
So, why might a hearty Texan company opt for soy over beef? Turns out, for a lot of the same reasons that Americans at large are reducing their intake of animal products. Farming livestock has a greater environmental impact than farming plants, not to mention the ethical quandaries surrounding eating animals. And on top of all of that, their soy jerky packs a greater nutritional punch -- that is, more protein, iron, calcium and magnesium -- than beef jerky, without the cholesterol and other health concerns carried by meat.
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Leaf Jerky is another brand making soy-based jerky that's based out of Michigan. Like All Yall’s, Leaf cites sustainability as a central focus of its brand. Apart from just using plant-based ingredients over resource-intensive meat, its packaging is recycled. It’s little wonder that soy is such a popular jerky base, because chefs and food scientists have literally centuries of cooking practices to use for inspiration in making a snack that’s not only nutritious, but tastes savory and meaty enough to impress even serious meat-eaters.
But soy isn’t the only plant capable of doing that. Upton’s Naturals, the vegan brand known primarily for its seitan and jackfruit meats, is launching its own jerky, made of wheat protein. And mushrooms, famously, have a strong and sometimes meat-like texture as well as delicious, earthy flavors that make them an excellent base for jerky. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky is one brand that has caught on to this, supposedly inspired by founder Michael Pan’s Malaysian relatives’s vegetarian family recipes.
Like many “new” foods in the plant-based market, Pan’s jerky is an example of how time-tested recipes and food practices from around the world are being repackaged and made on industrial scales to help improve the way Americans eat. Another brand, Savory Wild, also makes mushroom jerkym serving flavors that foodies have come to expect access to, like sweet balsamic and golden fig, roasted garlic and black pepper and sesame, ginger and Korean chili. The flavors are eclectic and worldly, but use the most classic of meat alternatives -- the humble mushroom -- as their foundation.
It would be overly simplistic to say that companies like Pan’s or All Yall’s are reinventing the wheel by using ingredients like soy and mushroom in place of meat. Rather, it’s only fitting that we should begin to lean more and more on the natural resources that have always been around us and part of human diets. And when it comes to jerky, a snack that’s so reminiscent of outdoorsy adventure, it just makes sense to keep the ingredients close to nature.