Meatless meat – what is it really made of?
The plant-based diet is a huge global trend, and what are sometimes referred to as “fake”, clean, alternative or substitute meats have taken off – the plant-based protein industry, now worth $14 billion in the US, is predicted to soon grow to be worth $140 billion.
Fast-food chains around the world now offer vegan substitute meat options, while chefs in Asia are using alternative mince in traditional dishes such as dumplings. High-profile chefs have signed up for partnerships and are increasingly incorporating meatless meats into menus – even Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton invested in plant-based fast-food chain Neat Burger in London.
So what actually are meatless meats?
There are many different kinds of “fake” meat, which can be grouped into two main families:
MADE FROM PLANTS
These alternative proteins are mainly made from:
Soya, which is made into tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (dehydrated soya), and more. It’s what the famous Impossible Burger, which wowed the world when it was first shown to “bleed” like a beef burger, is made from (along with potato and beetroot);
Peas, which is the main protein in the products of California-based Beyond Meat (along with mung beans, fava beans and brown rice);
Wheat, the processed gluten of which is called seitan, and which has long been used in China, Japan and other East and Southeast Asian nations. It is common particularly in Buddhist restaurants.
Seaweed, often used in fish and shellfish products, in conjunction with other processed plants
MADE FROM MICROBES
Did you know that mushrooms are neither plants nor animals? They have their very own kingdom – they are fungi.
Mushrooms are often used as meat substitutes in cooking, but in terms of alternative protein products, take note of these two:
Mycoprotein is made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684, to be exact. The fungus was discovered in the 1960s in the soil of the village of Marlow, England. Scientists worked out how to mass-produce it, and by 1985 it was being sold under the Quorn brand, as it is still known today.
Solein, the creation of Finnish start-up Solar Foods, is a protein made from carbon dioxide, air and electricity. The technology is new, and solein is still far from being commercially available, but some are already calling it revolutionary. Micro-organism flour pancakes, anyone?
There is another category chefs need to be aware of:
Also called cultured, cell-based or in-vitro meat, this is a form of cellular agriculture – meat grown from animal cells in a lab. In 2013, a professor at Maastricht University, Mark Post, famously created the first cultured beef hamburger at a cost of 250,000Euros.
Various companies are now creating cell-based meat and Prof Post’s start-up Mosa Meat claims they have brought the cost down to around 10 Euro a hamburger. It’s only a matter of time before cultured meat – be it shrimp, pork or beef – becomes a very viable option for chefs.
How do you feel about it? Would you cook with it?