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Plant it forward: Is plant-based meat a fad or our future?
IT LOOKS LIKE 2019 is set to be a banner year for plant-based meats in Singapore. If there was a time that we would look at burgers and wonder what mystery meat was in it, now we’re looking at our meat patties and wondering what mystery veggies have gone into it.
While various vegetarian meat substitutes have hovered just under the radar of mainstream dining, the recent big-bang launch of Impossible Food's 'bleeding' burger has brought the concept of plant-based eating smack into our consciousness. Eight restaurants - including Michelin-starred and celebrity chef-led eateries - put their stamp of approval on the Impossible Burger, and the stage is set to change the meat-eater's culinary orientation.
Even before Impossible’s debut, Grand Hyatt Singapore had already impressed with a series of food trucks showcasing Beyond Burger, JUST Eggs and Omnipork in 2018. Supermarkets have already been stocking up on Beyond, Gardein and Quorn.
The latter is also on the menus of Barcook Bakery and 4Fingers. Local startup Life3 Biotech, which launched in 2016, is hot on their heels with faux chicken and seafood, Veego and Seago.
The advent of plant-based proteins comes as no surprise. The British science journal Nature neatly summarises the obvious: "Our eating habits are making us and the planet increasingly unhealthy – it's a lose–lose situation." The livestock industry has an incredibly high carbon footprint.
A study in 2010 estimated water consumption in beef production at 15,415 litres per kilogramme, a far cry from the 322 litres needed to grow one kilogramme of vegetables. The World Health Organization considers red meat, particularly when processed, a carcinogen.
Studies supporting plant-focused diets are pouring in. A recent report from the EAT-Lancet Commission suggests that a predominantly plantbased diet with reduced meat consumption can mitigate climate change and confer health benefits, such as a lowered risk of heart disease.
People are opening their eyes to the advantages of a plant-focused diet, evident from the rise of cauliflower steaks and pulled jackfruit sliders. But where do these lab-produced "meats" stand? Are they the way forward in convincing us to give up a tender, marbled piece of dry-aged Black Angus ribeye?
Chefs in Singapore seem to think so. Group executive chef Robin Ho of The Privé Group explains, “It definitely has a place in the diets of people wanting to transition to plant-based or environmentally-conscious lifestyles."
The success of this transition, it seems, lies in how similar plant-based meats can be to the real deal. Too long have people been put off by ‘fake’ burgers which taste like cardboard or dehydrated beans. Impossible and Beyond use soy leghemoglobin and beets respectively to recreate the ‘bleeding’ effect you get from red meat, as well as coconut oil for a buttery texture and mouthfeel.
Based on public response, it seems they've hit on a winning formula.
As of today, Impossible Foods is served in nearly 6,000 restaurants across the US, Hong Kong and Macau. Beyond Meat is sold in 35,000 locations in over 20 countries. Mung bean-based JUST Eggs recently hit its 4 million-unit sales target in the US, outselling egg white-based Egg Beaters.
In Singapore, Grand Hyatt Singapore’s food trucks sold over 9000 Beyond Burgers, JUST Egg sandwiches and sweet sour Omnipork during its pop-up, and reports an increased popularity in plant-based meals at mezza9 and Pete’s Place. “Beyond Burgers are outselling regular meat burgers at a rate of three to one at our flagship mezza9," says a hotel spokesman.
Fuelling plant-based meats’ popularity is their versatility beyond burgers and sausage rolls. EMPRESS the Chinese restaurant proves it with dishes such as Sichuan mapo tofu using Impossible ‘beef’, while Omnipork is commonly used in Sweet & Sour Pork. Wayne Brown, executive chef Adrift by David Myers, proposes keeping an open mind and approach plant-based products not as a replacement, but as a new ingredient.
Still, Andrew Walsh, chef-owner of CURE, who launched a five-course plant-based menu back in December 2018, is dismissive of plant-based meats in the fine dining scene. “There is plenty of beautiful, fresh and natural produce out there to be used in so many different ways," he argues.
Shannon Binnie, the vegan executive chef of The Botanic, which focuses on socially conscious dining, concurs, "I prefer a more wholesome approach. I like to make everything from scratch, using responsibly grown whole foods that have gone through little and retain their natural composition."
Daniel Sia, culinary director of the Lo & Behold Group, adds, "In a fine dining setting, chefs are trained to use the season’s best. This seems like processed food."
Plant-based meats aren’t necessarily healthy, either. Colouring ingredients, such as annatto extract, and other crude plant extracts can be found on ingredient lists. The use of coconut oil also raises the amount of saturated fat.
Whether the market will continue to take to plant-based meats after the novelty dies is another question. The issue remains fundamental – the price. The Impossible Chedda at Three Buns costs $23, as compared to the $15 Da Cheese Master. Beyond Meat Meatless Beefy Crumble retails for $9.90 for 325g on redmart.com, whereas you can get minced beef from Mmmm! at $7 per 500g.
Regardless, the growth of vegan options - labproduced or au naturel - is set to continue. Meat eaters, you've been warned.
KNOW YOUR 'MEAT'
01 BEYOND MEAT
One of the few soyfree, vegan meat substitutes in the market. Available in beef and chicken variations, it uses peas, mung beans and brown rice for a more realistic texture.
02 IMPOSSIBLE FOODS
The main ingredients consist of soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. The Impossible Burger is made mostly of water and plant proteins along with heme. The mild soy flavour is not obvious when it's grilled.
A mycoprotein, Fusarium venenatum is left to ferment with added vitamins and minerals before egg albumen is added as a binder. It looks like minced meat, but tastes mainly like mushrooms.
Gardein tastes like, well, chicken. Made of soy, wheat, pea and ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut), the texture is like chicken but varies between their ready-to-eat products.
Hong Kong-based social enterprise Green Common launched Omnipork for the Asian market. Comprised of shiitake mushroom, nonGMO soy protein, pea protein and rice, it tastes like pork, albeit with a softer texture.
06 VEEGO AND SEAGO
A secret blend of legumes, grains and soya beans is used to create the chicken-like Veego and prawnlike Seago. Veego is garnering interest for how it can be sliced like real meat.
07 JUST EGGS
Made of mung beans, this cholesterol and gluten-free mixture tastes and looks just like scrambled eggs, just less fluffy and creamy. Works best when cooked with herbs and spices.
Beyond Burger, Gardein and Quorn are available at NTUC Fairprice, Cold Storage or Redmart. The other brands are currently only served in restaurants.