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Plant-based meats Impossible, Beyond, Omnimeat and Quorn (left). Beyond burger (right).

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OmniMeat’s newly launched luncheon meat product.

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Impossible Quinoa Salad.

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Baked Quorn Curry Puff.

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Tacos with OmniMeat.

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Beyond Meatball Skewers With Balsamic Glaze.

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Meatless Thai Basil Pasta Aglio Olio.

Where's the beef? The lowdown on plant-based meats

With more meat alternatives on the market, how do they taste and are they really good for you?
May 29, 2020 5:50 AM

FOR THE HAMBURGER lover teetering between the joy of a juicy meat patty and a niggling guilt over greenhouse gases and slaughtered cows, the Impossible burger seems like the best of both worlds. It allows you to enjoy that beefy mouth feel, succulence of marbled fat and burst of blood-mixed juices that medium-rare cooking elicits - with the full knowledge that no animal was harmed in the making of your lunch.

Save the earth and still eat meat - sort of - is the winning formula that’s been driving sales of plant-based alternative meat makers such as Impossible, Beyond, Omnimeat and Quorn in Singapore, especially in the past year or so and more so with the current Covid-19 pandemic.

WHAT’S IN THEM

Pea protein is a core ingredient in Beyond Meat, while soy protein dominates in Impossible and OmniMeat, and a fungi derived mycoprotein features in Quorn. Recipes vary, but generally each has its own proprietary blend of plant protein, salt, yeast extract, added vitamins, thickeners and so on. Beet juice might be added to give the burgers a ‘bleeding’ effect, although Impossible Foods’s use of soy heme is so realistic, you can trick your meat-eating friends into thinking they’re eating the real thing.

In terms of sustainability, there’s no denying that plant-based meats are a lot cleaner to produce than millions of belching livestock. During Earth Month in April, says Impossible Foods, Singaporeans who chose it over a grain-fed beef patty helped to save land equivalent to three times the size of Changi Jewel.

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But if food label readers recoil at ingredients such as methylcellulose, carrageenan and GMO soy, plant meat makers are quick to vouch for the safety and nutritional value of their products.

“OmniMeat is non-GMO, much lower in fat and sodium, not just when compared to animal meat, but also to other alternative meats,” says David Yeung, CEO & Cofounder of Green Monday, which makes OmniMeat. Meanwhile, Nick Halla, Impossible Foods’ senior vice president of International, believes that the word ‘processed’ is often misunderstood. “Almost everything you eat (from applesauce to yogurt) is processed in some way, whether it’s through blending, mixing, fermentation, or baking. Impossible meats are processed by mixing carefully selected ingredients, derived from plants or by fermentation.” He adds that Impossible is completely transparent with its ingredients and use of genetically modified soy, which medical associations in the US have deemed safe to eat.

WHAT DIETITIANS SAY

Currently, the jury is still out on the health benefits of plant-based meats, says Verena Tan, assistant professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, Singapore Institute of Technology.

“Research shows that a primarily plant-based diet is associated with lower prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Meat substitutes generally rely on purified plant protein and are also highly processed. That means there may be a loss of some nutrients and phytochemicals naturally present in minimally processed plant foods.”

So until, there are more studies done, “we cannot directly extrapolate the positive health findings of alternative meat products.”

Still, the founder of Pinnacle Nutrition Consultancy adds that meat substitutes are generally low in saturated fat (except for Impossible which uses coconut oil) and high in fibre content, with no cholesterol. And most have added vitamins and minerals to match the nutritional profile of meat.

Cost (they tend to be more expensive than real meat), salt content and processed nature aside, meat substitutes are safe to eat but shouldn’t be considered health food, as “it is definitely not a substitute for the natural goodness of vegetables, fruits and grains,” says Prof Tan.

“Binders, soy and wheat gluten may also cause allergies, so it’s very important to read the food labels properly,” adds Caleb Mok, representative dietitian, PanAsia Surgery.

If you want to transition to a vegetarian diet, do it in a healthier way through whole foods, says Mr Mok. “But if one isn’t convinced, this is a good way to transition.” To really be sustainable, he adds, “you could support local farmers instead, and reduce your carbon footprint. Even though meat substitutes are vegetarian, they are still imported, which adds to their carbon footprint.”

MAKING THE TRANSITION

“I always say that the healthiest diet is of course organic whole foods,” says OmniMeat’s Mr Yeung, who has been vegetarian for over 19 years. But, he adds, “To shift people from the bottom of the health scale to at least the upper part is an improvement, even if not to the point of organic whole foods.”

A former meat eater who has made that transition is Yuan Oeij, founder of the Prive group of restaurants, who became a vegan and now uses alternative meats extensively in his restaurant menus.

“I would see alternative meats as an occasional treat rather than a daily affair, and I would choose those with a clean label, ie fewer ingredients with less or no additives,” says Mr Oeij. “That said, I would argue that alternative meats are still healthier than the meats we consume, 99 per cent of which come out of the food system that involves cruelty, pollutants, pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics.”

While he doesn’t miss eating meat, he does miss some favourite dishes which meat alternatives help him to enjoy, such as chicken rice made with a textured soy protein called Heura, which is also a popular dish at Prive. He’s also impressed with a new product Fable from Australia, which is made from shiitake mushrooms and “is the cleanest, progressive meat alternative I’ve seen in the market, with the texture and look of beef brisket or pulled pork”.

If you’re looking to go vegetarian, take small steps, advises Mr Oeij. “Don’t think of it as giving up meat, but gaining the culinary pleasures that fruits and vegetables have to offer, as well as the benefits of better health and being good to Mother Earth.”

TASTE TEST AND COOKING TIPS

Working with Impossible and Beyond meats, Omnimeat and Quorn, private chef Joseph Yeo gives his take.

“OmniMeat resembles pork quite closely, although the texture is a little more sticky,” he says. “Impossible’s colour and texture comes closest to minced beef, while Beyond is very slightly greyish. Quorn, in turn, has a drier, chunky texture.”

Quorn’s neutral taste means it easily picks up the flavours of a stew or strong-flavoured dish like curry. Impossible, OmniMeat and Beyond are more versatile and easily suited for both Western and Asian cooking. All of them work well in his Thai Basil aglio olio recipe.

In terms of flavour, Chef Yeo picks Impossible and Beyond as they don’t need a lot of seasoning to be tasty. The dry texture and mouthfeel of Quorn tends to affect the overall flavour of a dish while OmniMeat, without adequate seasoning, can have a strong soy taste.

But once you get the recipe right, it may just put you on the road to a more sustainable lifestyle, and the discovery of real, whole foods at the same time.


RECIPES

Impossible Quinoa Salad

(SERVES 2)

INGREDIENTS
• Quinoa – 50g
• IMPOSSIBLE™ Meat – 80g
• Vegetarian Oyster Sauce – 1 Tbsp
• Sesame Oil – 3 Tbsp
• Chopped White Onions – 1 Tbsp
• Chopped Garlic – 1 Tbsp
• Cooking Oil – 3 Tbsp
• Red Capsicum, diced – 2 Tbsp
• Green Capsicum, diced – 2 Tbsp
• Boiled Whole Eggs, white and yolk separated – 2pcs
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Salt & Pepper to taste
• Edible Flowers, garnish

DIRECTIONS

(1) Boil quinoa in salted water according to packet instructions. (2) Meanwhile, marinate meat with sesame oil, oyster sauce, pepper. (3) In a heated non-stick pan, add cooking oil and fry onions, garlic till fragrant and brown. Add marinated meat and saute till meat is cooked. (4) Strain cooked quinoa to a bowl, seasoning it with salt, pepper and adding desired amount of olive oil. (5) Grate the egg using a fine grater separately and set aside. (6) To plate, use a ring mould to hold all the ingredients, layer cooked quinoa and meat, then top with eggs and capsicums separately and garnish with flowers.


Baked Quorn Curry Puff

(Makes 10)

INGREDIENTS
• Quorn Minced – 500g
• Red Onion – 200g
• Garlic – 100g
• Ginger – 20g
• Cinnamon – 1 pc
• Cloves – 5 pcs
• Curry Powder – 1 Tbsp
• Chad Potato – 300g
• Carrot – 100g
• Vegetable Stock – 100ml
• Store-bought Frozen Puff Pastry – 5 sheets
• Egg Yolks – 2pcs (beaten with 20ml water for egg wash)
• Salt & Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

(1) Blend onion, garlic, ginger and coriander together to form a paste. (2) Season Quorn mince well with salt, pepper, curry and chilli powder. Cut carrots into small cubes. (3) Heat oil in a pot and fry potatoes and carrots for about 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside. (4) In the same pot, add in the paste and spices and fry till fragrant and brown, stirring frequently. Remove the cloves and cinnamon and add in the marinated Quorn and stock. (6) Preheat the oven with fan mode to 1800C. (7) Allow Quorn to simmer and add in carrots and potatoes, mixing all well to coat with spice. (8) Cut the puff pastry to desired size, place it on baking paper and fill with Quorn mixture, sealing the sides by pressing a fork on the edges.(9) Brush the top with egg wash and bake for about 8-10 minutes until brown and crispy.


Tacos with OmniMeat

(SERVES 4-6)

INGREDIENTS

SALSA
• Tomatoes, diced 100g
• Lime, juiced 1pc
• Chopped Coriander 15g
• Chopped Shallots 20g
• Sesame Oil 2 Tbsp
• Salt & Pepper to taste

FILLING
• Omni Meat 200g
• Chopped White Onion 50g
• Chopped Garlic 15g
• Cooking Oil 40 ml
• Cherry Tomatoes 120g
• Red Kidney Beans 300g
• Cumin Powder, to taste
• Salt & Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

(1) Mix all ingredients for salsa and set aside. (2) In a heated pan, add half the oil and fry onion, then garlic, tomato and beans. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Allow to simmer, pulse blend, then scoop and set aside. (3) Add remaining oil, fry OmniMeat, add cumin, season with salt and pepper then add in tomato and bean mix. (4) Mix well, re-adjust seasoning and serve with desired topping.


Beyond Meatball Skewers With Balsamic Glaze

(SERVES 4-6)

INGREDIENTS
• Beyond Minced Meat – 200g
• Balsamic vinegar – 30ml
• Red Bell Pepper, deseeded and cut in squares – 1pc
• Green Bell Pepper, deseeded and cut in squares – 1pc
• Sesame Oil – 1 Tbsp
• White Sugar – 2 Tbsp
• Vegetable Oil – 2 Tbsp
• Salt & Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

(1) Season Beyond Meat with salt, pepper, sesame oil and shape them into meat balls about 25g each. (2) In a small saucepan, add balsamic, sugar and heat it over a slow heat till it forms a reduction/ glaze. Watch over it to avoid burning and be careful as it will be very hot when reduced. (3) Using a wooden skewer, spear meatball and peppers as desired. (4) In a non-stick pan, heat oil and cook the skewers for about 4-5 mins till they are brown and cooked. (5) Serve with balsamic glaze.


Meatless Thai Basil Pasta Aglio Olio

INGREDIENTS
• Pasta, any type – 250g
• Alternative meat of choice – 300g
• Vegetarian oyster sauce – 3 Tbsp
• Sesame Oil – 3 Tbsp
• Light Soy Sauce – 3 Tbsp
• Chopped Shallots – 3 Tbsp
• Chopped Garlic – 3 Tbsp
• Red and Green chilli, deseeded and sliced – 2pc
• Cooking Oil – 3 Tbsp
• Thai Sweet Basil, one handful
• Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

(1) Boil pasta in salted water according to package instructions. (2) Marinate meat with sesame oil, oyster sauce, pepper and soy. (3) In a heated non-stick pan, add cooking oil and fry shallots, chilli, garlic till fragrant and brown. Add marinated meat, basil and saute till meat is cooked. (4) Strain and add cooked pasta to the pan, adding some pasta water if needed to make it moist. (5) Season with more pepper or salt as desired, and garnish with parsley.