Accelerated by the pandemic and powered by environmentalists, we look back on a 2021 that saw launches of appetising alternatives such as plant-based kebabs, eggs and other ‘mock meats’
Pea protein mince, soy meat patties, legume-based eggs, plant derived fish fingers… the meat analogue platter is growing.
“There is a huge tailwind for plant-based meats in India,” says Abhishek Sinha, CEO, GoodDot, a plant-based meat company from Udaipur that introduced UnMutton Keema on World Vegan Day, November 1. It took his company nearly three-and-a-half years to develop the product and the R&D team is in the final stages of launching plant-based scrambled eggs, omelette, fish fingers and shrimp cutlets.
Similarly, to commemorate the day dedicated to veganism, Chirag Kenia, founder, Urban Platter, a platform for all gourmet and culinary requirements, in Bengaluru, too introduced meatless plant-based burger patties. He says, “The plant-based market in India is hungry for diverse options, especially in protein alternatives and we’re just getting started.”
Last month, Imagine Meats founded by Bollywood actors Riteish and Genelia Deshmukh, launched a range of nine plant-based products, which include keema, seekh kebabs, nuggets and sausages, as well as full meals like Afghan and Chettinad biriyani.
A year old in this space, Mumbai-based Blue Tribe Foods too introduced a range of “look like, feel like, smell like, and taste like” plant-derived chicken nuggets and sausages. The market is getting innovative with products such as legume-based liquid egg, by Kartik Dixit and Shraddha Bhansali’s Evo Foods in Mumbai.
A love for animals, the impact of the meat industry on environment and a conscious move to eat healthy, combine to power this trend globally and the focus of innovation in food is shifting to Asia, say industry watchers.
Kartik stresses on the fact that the egg similitude is made completely from Indian legumes like chickpea, moong and peas, adding that nutrition is their focus. He says a plant-based egg has 11 grams of protein and is at par with an organic egg that has protein, anywhere, between 10 to 12 grams. A 500 millilitre bottle of liquid egg is equivalent to 10 or 11 eggs. “Trials are on to make the product more baking friendly,” he adds.
Kartik turned vegan five years ago and believes that if the pandemic made people realise the damage from animal agriculture to the environment, it also made them think of rearing animals in coops and closely, of zoonotic transmissions, antibiotic resistance and maladies that can wipe out our race itself.
Chirag estimates a 15% increase in “Flexitarians” — people who are vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan — to experiment with and opt for more plant-based alternatives. After he turned vegan four years ago, he added more plant-based options to his diet. According to him the pandemic gave people the time to consciously think about their diet and e-commerce made it possible to deliver these curated foods to homes.
Abhishek agrees, pointing to a massive jump in awareness in the last one year: “It has skyrocketed, almost a 500 to 800 % increase.”
A non-vegetarian, Abhishek’s interest in the field arose from his love for animals. While he was doing his engineering in 2003, he came across a study titled In Vitro Meat, by three Dutch inventors — Willem Van Eelen, Willem Van Kooten and Wiete Westerhof — on cultured meat created from tissue. “It fascinated me and set me thinking, we could make meat using plant tissue; this was the perfect solution for a person like me, who enjoys eating meat but does not want to hurt or kill an animal,” says Abhishek. He founded the company in 2016 with his friend Deepak Parihar.
Sohil Wazir, CCO, Blue Tribe, believes that this trend is driven by two factors: Anti-cruelty movement towards animals and the growing awareness of the high carbon footprint of the meat industry. “About 2-3% of the population is aware of the implications of the meat industry on the environment,” he says. Animal agriculture contributes to the second largest carbon emissions after fossil fuels.
Genelia discloses a defining moment in her family’s turn towards a plant-based diet, recalling a remark that was casually made by her son: ‘We can’t have a pet dog and eat chicken at the same time.’ “It hit me so hard,” she says adding that Riteish, a meat lover, too wanted to have guilt-free meat.
Development of plant-based meats is the biggest challenge for the industry that works closely with food and material scientists, chefs, and investors. Abhishek adds that the second biggest challenge is creating awareness of the product but the pandemic has helped in this.
Protein extracted from plants is converted into meat analogue by a process of denaturation where protein linkages are altered using heat and pressure. It is then realigned to match the structure of meat.
It took nine months for Chirag and his brother Dhaval, who set up Urban Platter as an e-commerce platform in 2015, to develop the burger from “textured soy proteins.” Currently working on developing vegan mayonnaise and butter, the company sources almost 90% of the ingredients locally.
Working in the labs of Blue Tribe, chef Nirvaan Thacker who partners QSR, Zaatar and Mozza in Mumbai speaks of the challenges of cooking with mock meats.
“Pea and soy are fundamentally different; the meat tends to react differently when used in a Bolognaise sauce or in a lighter preparation like broth. We are working towards addressing these factors,” says Nirvaan. He adds that the speed of development of the ingredients has increased in the last six months and that with every trial, he is able to better the product. By Christmas, he says, they could easily move from working with mince to larger chunks of meats, a chicken roast perhaps.
Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, Pune-based Raina Joseph tried plant-based keema with parathas. She says, “Despite being a non-vegetarian, I could not differentiate between meat keema and the UnMutton keema. The texture was chewy, stretchy, the way meat is supposed to be. The spice and heat level too were appropriate. I found it awesome.”
About 40 people who attended the tasting of legume-based eggs at Candy & Green at Breach Candy in Mumbai were floored by the experience and Nirula’s in New Delhi has begun serving burgers made from plant-based mince.
Kartik says that he gets angry messages on social media asking for the product to be launched soon. “We will be there before the year ends,” he says.
With much buzz in this new field of food innovation, 2021 may go down as a year that launched the maximum number of plant-derived meat products.