Meat extenders can boost the flavor, budget-friendliness, sustainability and nutrient-richness of tacos, kibbeh, meatballs, sloppy Joes, lasagna and burgers.
And the best part? Lean meat may never be dry or overcooked again because extenders add moisture that is provided by fat in higherfat ground meat. Use these hacks with lower-fat ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey.
Add chopped mushrooms to meat to increase a dish’s B vitamins, selenium and dietary fiber; mushrooms that are exposed to UV light can boost vitamin D content, too. Mushrooms add umami characteristics often described as “meatiness” to dishes and allow you to use less salt. There’s no exact recipe for blending: Use 8 ounces of raw mushrooms for 8 ounces of raw meat, or use one pound of raw mushrooms for less meat — both will work well because mushrooms cook similar to meat. Chop fresh mushrooms and mix with raw ground meat, or sauté or roast the mushrooms first to enhance flavor. Roughly chop mushrooms with a knife or use a food processor until they look like ground meat.
Affordable brown lentils are similar in color and texture to crumbled, cooked ground meat and are a good source of protein, fiber, iron and folate. Traditional in Mediterranean dishes such as Greek keftedes and Persian koftas, lentil meat extension is not new. To raw ground meat, add cooked brown lentils in a ratio of 3:1 or 2:1. Lentils that are pureed or pulsed in a food processor act as a binder to keep burgers and meatballs from crumbling and can replace egg or breadcrumb binders.
As a meat extender, cooked or canned beans are more noticeable in a final dish than lentils. However, mashed beans act much like pureed lentils as a binder, especially if you add a small amount (1 to 2 tablespoons) of the starch-rich canned bean brine. The brine is salty, so you need less salt in recipes. Mashed pinto or black beans are barely noticeable in ground beef. Lighter colored mashed garbanzo or great northern beans meld into ground chicken or turkey.
Prunes help lock moisture into meat because of their ideal combination of sorbitol and fiber: Sorbitol attracts moisture and fiber helps absorb it. A little can go a long way, so use just two to three prunes in a pound of raw meat. Soak prunes in hot water for five minutes, drain, then puree. When cool, mix prunes into raw meat. Adding a few more tablespoons of prune puree can help with browning, and a half cup of chopped prunes can add bulk and extra flavor to a pound of raw meat.
Whole Grains and Seeds
Adding oats, bulgur, quinoa and chia seeds can add volume and nutrients to meat. You can’t go wrong with 1 cup cooked bulgur or quinoa per pound of raw meat. For use as a binding agent, start with ¾ cup dry oats or 1 tablespoon hydrated chia seeds per pound of raw meat.
Textured Soy Protein
Textured soy protein, also known as textured vegetable protein, is commonly a single-ingredient product made from soybeans. The soybean oil is removed and the resulting flour, a complete protein, is cooked under pressure and dried into crumbles like breadcrumbs. Once rehydrated, this meat extender has a similar appearance and texture to ground meat. Textured soy protein is almost flavorless and absorbs the spices or sauces to which it is added, blending easily with ground meat in chili or pasta sauce. To avoid oversaturation, rehydrate textured soy protein separately before adding it to cooked ground meat in any ratio.
Health & Nutrition. Lentils website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
Making Winning Meals with Soy: A Guide for school Foodservice and Child Care Providers. United Soybean Board website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
Textured vegetable protein, dry. U.S. Department of Agriculture website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
The Blend. The Mushroom Council website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
TVP® (Textured Vegetable Protein). Bob’s Redmill website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
Umami in Foods: What is Umami and how do I Explain It? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library website. Accessed January 2, 2020.
Wong K, Corradini MG, Autio W, Kinchla AJ. Sodium reduction strategies through use of meat extenders (white button mushrooms vs. textured soy) in beef patties. Food Sci Nutr. 2019;7(2):506–518.