Meat substitutes are gaining more notice as people cut down on meat for budget, health or environmental reasons.

One of the food trends we’ve been tracking is the rise of edibles that are close to the real thing but somewhat less sinful—think “near beer” but a bit more high-tech. Meat substitutes in particular are gaining more notice as people cut down on meat for budget, health or environmental reasons. Bill Gates is currently highlighting “how food scientists are reinventing meat” on The Gates Notes, pointing out that “We need more options for producing meat without depleting our resources.” (Our 2012 trend Food as the New Eco-Issue examined how food is becoming an environmental concern.)

With faux foods getting more convincing, venture capitalists are starting to see the opportunities, as Businessweek recently reported. Last year Beyond Meat launched a soy-based fake chicken that’s fooled some experts. The company’s backers include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Obvious Corp., run by two of Twitter’s founders. Venture capitalists are also backing Hampton Creek Foods, which recently launched Beyond Eggs—made of peas, sunflower lecithin, canola and natural gums, among other things—a product intended to replace eggs in baked goods.

Eventually we’ll see another category of meat that’s neither imitation nor “real.” Several dozen labs are developing synthetic meat, using stem cells and grown in test tubes. The Netherlands and Brazil are among the governments funding research. A 2011 study predicted that if enough resources go toward such research, a lab-grown meat akin to mincemeat could come to market within the next few years. Then there’s Modern Meadow, a company trying to make meat using a 3D bioprinter—a 3D printer that uses “ink” made of live cells.

More appealing by far: “near” candy like the Unreal line, which uses no artificial ingredients and preservatives, corn syrup or hydrogenated oil, in products that look like body doubles for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and M&M’s.

Image credit: Beyond Meat