Crew members rave about these meat substitutes that taste remarkably similar to real beef and turkey.

Trader Joe's "crew members" are very loyal to their favorite products. With such a tightly curated selection and their involvement in product development tasting panels, it's no wonder. But it's not just cheeses, chocolate and the usual snack suspects that they're raving about—this week on the latest episode of the Inside Trader Joe's podcast, co-hosts Tara Miller, marketing director, and Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing, recapped the plant-based products that earn top ratings from staff.

"It's becoming almost cool to say that you eat plant-based," says Amy Gaston-Morales, category manager of deli, fresh beverage, meat, meatless protein and seafood, who joined the hosts to talk about what's new and next, plus to review some of the tried-and-true animal product-free stars on the Trader Joe's shelves.

"There's been a huge growth in the meatless set," Gaston-Morales says. "These products are really going after the flexitarian customers," who are looking both to improve their own health and the health of the environment, she adds. (ICYMI, shifting to a more vegan or vegetarian diet, even just some days, could reduce your global greenhouse gas emissions by about 70% and water use by 50%, per a report in the journal PLOS One.)

"The new products that we're developing are a specific target to what sells well in the meat and seafood set, or chicken, for example," Gaston-Morales says. Referring to upcoming possible trends such as plant-based fried chicken and sausage, she adds: "It's gone beyond the burger to the other food products that people normally crave. To get that texture and bite, it's really a lot more complicated than people assume. Otherwise it tastes rubbery or doesn't have that richness or doesn't cook the same."

Bacon, charcuterie and seafood are next on their plant-based product wish list, but for now, here are the top 5 plant-based products that Trader Joe's staff members raved about on the episode:

  1. Tzatziki and Caramelized Onion Plant-Based Dips: These new dips launching this year are made with a creamy, dairy-free base. "In panel, everybody agreed they tasted better or exactly the same as the full dairy version," Gaston-Morales says.

  2. Meatless Meatballs: "One of our items we've really nailed in terms of texture is the Meatless Meatballs. It's one of my family-favorite items and we use it as a substitute in spaghetti all the time," Gaston-Morales says. "It's lower in fat and calories than the meat version that we sell but you would never know you aren't eating meat." (BTW, IKEA now offers meatless Swedish meatballs.)

  3. Beef-less Ground Beef: One product that Gaston-Morales believes is too often overlooked or underrated is their plant-based beef crumbles. It's a "great substitution for Bolognese sauce or sloppy Joes. Because you're adding seasonings and sauce and you're really using it as an accompaniment to a different dish, you can do so many things with it."

  4. Turkeyless Protein Patties: Tara Miller swears that "the texture and the color of the vegan turkey patty is really similar to a turkey burger." And it's seasoned with sage for some Thanksgiving vibes. (Speaking of that, did you hear about TJ's Everything But the Leftovers Seasoning?)

  5. Meatless Protein Patties: This similar-to-Impossible faux-beef product has a soft texture, a smoky flavor and looks pink in the center even after cooking like a rare burger, the hosts agree. "It's kind of cool if you're a meat-eater. I think maybe if you're not a meat-eater, this is not a product you're in search of anyway," Miller says, since it's almost too close to the real deal of ground sirloin.

Related: Watch our series Veganize It to learn how to make delicious vegan versions of your favorite meaty meals.