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Understanding the Meteoric Rise of Meat-Free Proteins

by Voices Wellness 19 Feb 2021
Photo: Impossible Foods

From Impossible to Beyond Meat, these plant-based alternatives are becoming a mainstay at restaurants and fast-food chains. By SAMANTHA FRANCIS

Since a year ago, Impossible, Beyond Meat, and Quorn have become household names for plant-based proteins. Once exclusive to the realm of the health-conscious and vegans, meat alternatives have been on a meteoric rise and are now a mainstay on restaurant menus and even fast-food joints like KFC and 4Fingers.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increasing awareness for wellbeing and environmental sustainability, leading both consumers and producers to rethink the future of meat. The system of the factory farm and other agricultural practices associated with meat production have been shown to cause pollution through animal methane, effluent waste, fossil fuel usage, and water consumption.

Enter meat-less meat, which are essentially protein alternatives that accurately mimic the desirable properties of meat, with less environmental impact. Here a closer look at what they are and why you should care about them.

Photo: Impossible Foods

What exactly are meat alternatives?  

As a Singaporean, you’ve probably eaten meat alternatives within batting an eyelid. Also called a meat analogue or meat substitute, they can come in the form of soybeans such as tofu and tempeh, gluten, or peas. They differ greatly from culture to culture, from cauliflower “steaks” in Western cooking to tempeh made from fermented soybeans in Indonesian cooking. At homegrown vegetarian hawker stalls, mock duck and mock chicken made from wheat gluten are commonly available.

The newest kid on the block is what we’re talking about here—cell-based, or lab-grown meat products made from plant-based extracts. A prime example is Impossible meat, made with meat protein heme that’s extracted from the root nodules of soybean plants and inserted in genetically engineered yeast. According to scientists, heme is the component that makes meat taste like meat, giving it the ability to “bleed” and char on a grill in a similar manner as real meat.

Meanwhile, Beyond Meat recreates the fibrous texture of meat from plant-based proteins, as well as fats, minerals, fruit, and vegetable-based colours to replicate the juiciness and flavours of meat. The upside to consuming these meat-based alternatives is that they tend to be a good source of fibre, calcium, and potassium with almost zero cholesterol. Their production also requires less land, water, and energy usage compared to agricultural farming.

But as with all things, there’s backlash and caveats. Plant-based foods are criticised for being overly processed, containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), potentially unhealthy. To navigate this complex landscape of meat-free proteins, consumers are advised to consume all things in moderation and include a good number of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets. After all, even a purportedly healthy bottle of yoghurt drink can be highly processed too, considering pasteurisation is a food-related process.

Photo: Beyond Meat

What do they taste like?

Meat-free meat comes in many forms, including burger patties, ground beef, sausages, and nuggets, all designed for ease of preparation. Among the brands available in the market today, the leading brands are Impossible and Beyond Meat, both of which have captivated diners with their bold and meaty flavours that makes it hard to discern from the real deal.

According to consumer reviews, Impossible patties have a more pronounced meat flavour than Beyond Meat, while the latter tasted more of the different vegetable proteins used. The former was also able to achieve a pink centre, like that of a medium-rare beef patty, while the latter cooked to a more consistent texture.

Photo: Quorn

In the Lion City, you’ll find dishes made from Impossible meat used at leading F&B establishments such as Adrift by David Myers, Potato Head Singapore, Three Buns Quayside, Violet Oon Singapore, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, as well as Rang Mahal. Meanwhile, Quorn meat is used at Ichiban Bento, which serves it in its meat-free bento options such as tsukune (meatball) and nuggets with yuzukosho dip.

For vegans who prefer not to consume real eggs, there’s also the egg-free Just Egg, made with mung bean protein and sold in liquid form. When cooked, it resembles scrambled eggs in both flavour and texture. You’ll find it served in a hearty sandwich with homemade tomato chutney and guacamole at Oasis.

Meanwhile, those who fancy the flavours of pork but prefer going meat-free can opt for Omnipork, which is made from shiitake mushrooms, peas, rice and non-GMO soy. It’s available in the menus of Wolf Burger and Cedele.

In a nutshell, meat-free alternatives are here to stay. Rather than targeting vegetarians or vegans specifically, these above-mentioned brands look set to nudge themselves into the daily diets of the health-conscious meat lover.

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