The Tip You Need To Transform Mushrooms Into Vegan Bacon

Plant-based burgers, vegan nuggets, and meat-free meatballs tend to have one thing in common: they usually use mushrooms as a main ingredient. Although their protein content isn't the most comparable, according to The Spruce Eats, the meaty texture of mushrooms and their ability to absorb flavors is what makes them an exceptionally versatile meat substitute. Portobello mushrooms, for example, work well in place of steak, oyster mushrooms make for a tasty chickenless kebab, and shiitake mushrooms can replace ground meat filling, The Spruce Eats shares. 

When it comes to substituting mushrooms for bacon, however, it isn't so much the variety of mushroom that matters most, but more so the seasoning. Bacon has a very distinct taste that can be difficult to replicate. So how exactly do you make mushrooms taste more like bacon? There isn't one clear-cut way, but there's one spice you should always include when making vegan bacon.

Add paprika to your vegan bacon recipe

To make vegan bacon, America's Test Kitchen suggests shiitake mushrooms, Serious Eats uses King Oyster mushrooms, and Minimalist Baker says portobello mushrooms are best. Each publication uses a different type of mushroom and cooking method, but all use paprika in the recipe.

The obvious explanation for why this works, as Exceedingly Vegan suggests, is that paprika and bacon both share a smoky flavor profile. However, it could also have something to do with the foods normally associated with paprika. The Food XP points out that the spice is used primarily in meat dishes, and it's also a main ingredient in barbecue sauces, dry rubs, and sausages. It isn't implausible, therefore, that the taste of paprika would bring out the natural meatiness of mushrooms. Combine that with the usual bacon flavors such as Applewood and maple, and once you let it crisp up in the oven or pan, the result will be pretty similar to the real deal.