Mushrooms Are The Key To Vegetarian Meatloaf That Still Packs Umami Flavor

Based on its name, you may think meat is kind of a key requirement in meatloaf, but that's not always the case. If you're vegetarian, vegan, or just trying to lean toward a more plant-based diet, you can make a delicious meat-free meatloaf using mushrooms instead. To anyone experienced in vegetarian cuisine, this swap probably isn't very surprising. These fungi are used in burgers, tacos, pasta sauces, and countless other dishes — and they can work as the perfect substitute for the ground beef in meatloaf.

The reason mushrooms work so well here is because they can replicate certain crave-worthy characteristics that meat possesses. Both beef and mushrooms are full of umami flavor, which gives them the deeply savory taste that we also love in foods like aged cheese and soy sauce. Texture-wise, the fungi are nice and chewy and can soak up sauces like a sponge — which make them ideal in meatloaf, a dish full of seasoned ketchup. And while they won't deliver the same amount of protein as meat, you will get plenty of nutrients by including mushrooms, including zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. 

How to make meatloaf with mushrooms

To swap out the meat in meatloaf for a vegetarian mushroom version, you'll first need to chop up your fungi. Luckily, almost any type of shrooms will do here — so whether you prefer cremini, white button, shiitake, or something else, you can throw them (or a mixture of a few types) in your recipe. The key to squeezing even more flavor out of these fungi is to caramelize them on the stovetop with your onions, which will add sweetness and enhance the flavor even more. For an easier recipe, you can skip this step and simply pulverize the mushrooms in a food processor with your onions and garlic, but the depth of flavor won't quite be the same. After either method, you can then add in the rest of your ingredients, like the ketchup, herbs, and Worcestershire sauce.

For even more texture (and potentially some protein), you can also include some ground "meat" (from a brand like Beyond) into the mix. All you would do is incorporate it when you add in the dry ingredients like the breadcrumbs. If you want to try out a more natural ingredient, however, you can blitz nuts like walnuts or almonds in a food processor, which have plenty of umami flavor as well. Your dish will turn out so hearty and savory, you won't even miss traditional ground beef.