So What's The Basis For Plant-Based Food?
Epicure Magazine|February - March 2021
Taking a closer look at the fast diminishing gap between plant-based meat and dairy alternatives and their original counterparts, one food at a time.
Priyanka Elhence

It’s no secret that eating less red meat, and more fruit and vegetables is good for both people and planet, thus making plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet are some of the most used trending buzz phrases today.

What is a myth though, is the fact that a plant-based diet is synonymous with being vegan or vegetarian. In reality, a flexitarian approach allows for natural inclusion of diverse protein sources, in which regular meat and dairy are still permissible occasionally in smaller quantities, putting a greater emphasis on plant-based alternatives. The key to making this supposedly healthier and more planet-friendly lifestyle change sustainable and more enjoyable in the long run, is to simply include more plant-based foods to an already healthy diet rather than making drastic diet changes, most of which will be unsustainable on a long-term basis.

Nigel Moore, Accor’s Senior Vice President F&B, SE Asia, Japan & South Korea said at the Accor collaboration with Green Monday last December, “A recent study of 27,000 people across 27 countries confirmed that three out of four people want to reduce their impact on the environment by a large amount, and a significant number of meat eaters would be willing to switch to plant-based alternatives if they taste equally good, and have the same price and nutritional value.”

While nuts, lentils, beans and chickpeas are table staples when it comes to plant-based building blocks, easy-to-cook alternatives such as Impossible, Beyond Meat and Quorn’s meat-free burgers, mince and sausages, are becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation, even while technically they are still considered to be ‘highly processed foods’. On the dairy side, plant-based milk, egg and ice cream alternatives are already very popular, but cheese and yogurt alternatives still have some way to go before becoming widely accepted.

Asia might only just be catching up to this fanatic plant-based trend, but it’s already proving to be a region to be reckoned with. “Asia is currently still behind markets like the USA and Europe with regards to the rise of flexitarianism, so we see it as just the beginning of a new paradigm,” says Andre Menezes, Co-Founder & COO, Next Gen Foods.

We take a look at the different players offering alternative meat and dairy options doing their part to protect the planet and to leave a lower environmental footprint as the world struggles to feed its population sustainably and nutritiously.

THE WORLD OF FAUX MEATS

Beef

Two of the most popular names in this space are the ubiquitous Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat, as well as the recently launched The Vegetarian Butcher.

Beyond Meat (part of the Hong Kong-based Green Monday umbrella) is made up of a variety of plant proteins, including pea and brown rice, free of onion and garlic derivatives, with a product offering including Beyond Beef (mince), Beyond Meatballs, and Beyond Burger (patties). All Beyond Meat products are said to be antibiotic-, cholesterol- and hormone-free, boasting more protein and iron than animal meat, with 25-35% less saturated fat.

Hailing from California’s Silicon Valley under the parent company Impossible Foods, Impossible™ Beef is made of sustainable, wholesome ingredients including soy proteins, sunflower oil, coconut oil and heme, which gives Impossible products that unique meaty flavour. According to Laurent Stevenart, Country Manager Impossible Foods, Singapore, what differentiates Impossible Foods from other companies is its technology platform and worldclass archive of knowledge of how meat works at the molecular level, thanks to nearly a decade of basic science and hard-core R&D. “Our scientists figured out the exact mechanisms by which the meat flavour is generated, and then used plants and other simple nutrients to recreate the same real meat flavour,” he says. “Other competitors share a similar mission with us, but a different approach with different products. Their approach is to create better veggie alternatives for target vegans and vegetarians, but our only target customer is the avid meat lover.”

Hence the heme which apparently has impressed even hardcore carnivores. “Heme is an iron-containing molecule found in both animals and plants, but is superabundant in animal tissue. We get heme from leghaemoglobin, the protein naturally found in soy roots, through a yeast fermentation process which is similar to rennet production in cheese making. And since everything is made from plants, our beef alternatives are free of cholesterol, animal hormones, antibiotics, artificial ingredients, and slaughterhouse contaminants,” says Stevenart.

The newest kid on the plant-based beef block in Singapore is The Vegetarian Butcher, thanks to a partnership with Unilever Food Solutions, and it is already sold in over 30 countries around the world since its launch in 2010. Interestingly the company was created after the 1998 outbreak of swine fever.

Jaap Korteweg, a ninth-generation farmer and founder of The Vegetarian Butcher, uses only soy (non-genetically modified soybeans), lupine, and vegetables grown on Dutch soil for his products. His range of plant-based beef alternatives available at The Social Kitchen, offer NoMeatballs and NoBeef Burgers, of which the latter is said to be seven times more sustainable than traditional beef.

Pork

Reputed to be the most popular and highest consumed meat in Asia, there are no shortage of faux pork options. The three most prominent players offering plant-based pork alternatives are Beyond Meat, Karana and OmniMeat.

Beyond Meat is perhaps even more popular with its faux pork range than with its beef options. Available are a variety of different flavours in the Beyond Sausage range, as well as the Beyond Breakfast Sausage, all of which use the same propriety building blocks as the beef counterparts, totally plant-based and vegan. With a firmer texture than its competitors, Beyond Meat is often considered to be the only choice for hot dogs and other sausage based dishes.

Hong Kong’s plant-based lifestyle platform Green Monday Group, best known as the creator of OmniFoods and OmniMeat Mince in 2018, most recently launched its OmniMeat luncheon meat and pork-like OmniMeat Strip late last year to give consumers a healthier option in lieu of traditional canned pork luncheon meat. The more Asian-inspired OmniMeat focuses on pork alternatives with guilt-free products like OmniMeat Luncheon, made after a two-year comprehensive research study in Canada, and based on a proprietary blend of pea protein, non-GM soy, shiitake mushroom and rice, completely free of cholesterol, antibiotics and hormones. “OmniMeat Luncheon is also 86% lower in saturated fat and 66% lower in calories than traditional pork, while being much higher in fibre, 260% higher in calcium and 127% higher in iron,” says David Yeung, OmniFoods Founder & Founder and CEO of Green Monday.

“OmniFoods is our own food innovation arm, with OmniMeat being a leading meat alternative product. We named our brand OMNI as our products can satisfy meat-eaters and vegans alike,” says Yeung.

“I was shocked when I read the United Nations’ report on the negative impact from the meat industry in 2016, coupled with Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” documentary. As a vegetarian, I thought people must know this information, as this is related to the collective survival of humanity on the planet. Yet back in those days, the awareness of the correlation between sustainability and food, particular meat consumption, was nonexistent. So, in 2012, I couldn’t wait any longer and launched Green Monday - both the mission-driven venture and the plant-based movement,” says Yeung.

Meanwhile closer to home and also inspired by Asian street food culture, home-grown Karana is the first company of its kind in Asia to create pork ‘meat’ from whole-plants to cater for Asian comfort food such as dumplings and char siu baos. Organic, Sri Lankan whole-plant young jackfruit is used to make the plant-based faux pork with minimal processing and minimal ingredients, setting it apart from other plant-based meat competitors who largely rely on commodity crops in highly processed forms. Unlike other plant-based products that rely heavily on heavily processed commodity crops like pea, Karana products retain the whole-plant nature of their biodiverse ingredients.

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