Over the past decade, veganism & plant-based foods have progressively grown from a minor trend to a niche which garnered sufficient attention to finally being established as a sustainable way of life. Throughout the transition, plant-based meats have been at the forefront, leading the charge on the road to becoming a mainstay at various parts of the world.
Understanding Plant Based Meats & The Reason Behind its Conception:
Plant based meat products are food items designed with the purpose of replicating or mimicking the taste, texture, aroma & appearance of animal meat. While foods like tofu or seitan were meant to replace meat completely, plant-based burger patties, sausages & nuggets aim to provide the experience of enjoying meat without the cruelty associated with the slaughter of animals.
Herein lies one of the 2 major reasons for the ideation of these products:
- The primary cause of consumers shifting to vegan diets or being open to the idea of plant-based varieties of meat is the immense amount of pain & torture, animals & livestock go through in the journey of meat production. As the demand for ‘delicious’, non-vegetarian foods skyrocketed, industrial farming of poultry & livestock shifted into overdrive. Selective breeding, the use of antibiotics and injections & conscience-less killing lead to uproar around the world. Animals were being slaughtered in order to simply please our taste buds & ethically, this did not sit right, not only with vegetarians & animal activists but millions of non-vegetarians who eventually decided to make serious dietary changes.
- Another major factor aiding this industry is the undeniable fact that meat & dairy production accounts for over 14.5% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions (according to UN estimate). Alarmingly, this number even exceeds the transport sector & with the fatal damage inflicted on the environment causing severely adverse climate changes on the planet, such a potently high dosage of emissions is not sustainable at any cost. Plant-based alternatives are slowly finding a way to deliver the same or larger amounts of nutritional benefits with substantially minimal damage to the environment.
Ingredients & How Plant-Based Meats Make it to the Table:
To replicate structure as well as provide the required protein content, ingredients usually found in plant-based meats range from soybeans, lentils, legumes to quinoa & veggie proteins such as peas and wheat gluten a.k.a seitan.
Amongst them, soy protein has been utilized the longest due to its underlying texture & flavor. Therefore, several studies & research has helped to enhance the ways in which it can be combined with other produce to create the based products. Similarly, Pea protein has been touted as the fastest growing ingredient and is vastly harnessed by ‘Beyond Meat’ a pioneering leader in the industry. A key factor is because pea protein contains all 9 amino acids essential for our diet which are usually not found together in other plant proteins.
Now to understand the development process of plant-based meat alternatives, we need to grasp that the protein texture found in animal meat is vastly different from that of plants. The lack of muscle tissue essentially means that plant-based meats do not have the chewiness or bite found in regular meat & hence plant-based patties can feel mushy or crumbly. Similarly when animal meat is cooked, its texture changes as protein breakdown leads to tenderization of the meat. Hence, it’s extremely hard to replicate the texture & mouth feel through plant-based meats.
To overcome such challenges, companies utilize a few practices or techniques to create products which closely resemble animal meat:
- A process called Extrusion is used to simulate or mimic the texture of meat by heating & subsequently cooling the proteins prior to them being cooked.
- Heme, an essential molecule found abundantly in animals lends itself to the meaty flavor we all enjoy. Beyond Meat creates heme through yeast fermentation to allow plant-based meat patties to gain the required taste.
- Animal fat provides the juiciness & richness and plant-based alternatives use a combination of oils such as sunflower & canola to substitute those properties.
Health Benefits of Switching to Plant-Based Meats:
- Plant-based meats are known to be a great source of fiber, iron & folate in addition to a better collection of vitamins & minerals.
- Animal meat is generally high in saturated & trans-fat and sodium, which can result in high cholesterol in the future and further cause complications such as diabetes and cancers.
- Reduced chances of animal -to-human disease transfer through viruses & bacteria.
Plant- based meat products may sometimes be considered as processed foods but it must be understand that certain food processing allows us to reduce food-safety risks, make raw ingredients easier to digest and increase the amount of potential nutrients accessible to consumption.
As research into Plant-Based Meats is quite nascent, innovations are expected each year as the industry grows by leaps & bounds! The MarketsandMarkets Plant Based & Alternative Protein Virtual Conference on the 17th & 18th of October convenes expert leaders to discuss the various challenges to be overcome, novel ideas disrupting the food industry & what the future holds for plant-based alternatives.
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