5 Unexpected Foods to Satisfy Meat Cravings

September 19th, 2016


There is a reason why so many people crave meat.

When our ancestors first started eating animal flesh on the African savannas 2.5-million years ago, their food options were extremely limited. For our hungry ancestors, meat had two things, in particular, that were a godsend: fat and protein. Today, our tongues are still attuned to detecting the calorie-loaded fat and the “umami” taste that signifies that a food is abundant in protein. The reason why we love the taste of meats, such as fried bacon or grilled burgers, is the Maillard reaction: the browning that occurs when we cook some foods in high temperatures. To the tongues of our ancestors, the flavors of the Maillard reaction signified that a food had been cooked and thus safer to eat. But even though we no longer need meat for its protein and fat, and indeed we have better ways of knowing that food is safe than relying on the the Maillard reaction, our taste buds obviously didn’t get the memo. They keep pushing us towards pork and beef.

To make Meatless Monday easier and more fun, here are a few tips on how we can satisfy our outdated taste buds without meat, from Marta Zaraska, science journalist and author of  Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat who has also published in the Washington Post, Scientific American, and The Atlantic.

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Craving ribs? Try avocado.

Ribs are fatty. In a single 3 oz serving, you may get about 0.7 oz/20 grams of fat (and a lot of that is in unhealthy, saturated form). If you feel like dining on ribs or pork sausages, chances are your taste buds would be happy with something else that is fatty, so go for plant foods that are loaded with fat, such as avocados (13 grams of fat in 1/2 avocado) or macadamia nuts (a whopping 21 grams of fat in a 1 oz serving—more than ribs). And the good news is that fats found in plants are largely of the healthy, unsaturated type.

Swap chicken for PB sandwiches.

If the amount of protein in the human diet falls below 15 percent (more or less), we start craving it. So, on Meatless Monday, if you suddenly feel like having a lean chicken breast, your body may well be telling you it wants protein. A perfect solution would be a whole-wheat peanut butter sandwich or rice with beans. Both these dishes have complete protein, just like you would get from meat.

Instead of toasty bacon, go for toasts.

What makes bacon so appetizing are the flavors created in the Maillard reaction. But you can get these aromas in different ways besides the grilling or frying of meat. Toasted bread, tempura, pan-fried vegetarian dumplings—all these foods could satisfy your cravings because they offer the Maillard reaction.

Create umami bombs.

Meats are full of umami—“delicious” in Japanese—the fifth basic taste. Mushrooms have plenty of umami, and so does aged cheese (Parmesan, in particular), tomatoes, and fermented foods such as soy sauce or kimchi. What’s more, combining several umami foods in one dish can make what chefs call a “umami bomb”—even more potent deliciousness. So, instead of cooking a steak for your Meatless Monday dinner, try a stir-fry with soy sauce, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

Make a meaty plant-based meal.

Since meats tempt us with the combination of fat, umami, and the aromas of the Maillard reaction, try combining all these flavors in one plant-based meal. An example? A perfectly toasted sandwich with avocado, tomatoes, and Parmesan. Enjoy!