A chef’s guide to plant-based protein

The world of plant-based protein in the food service industry is growing rapidly and it’s not just limited to bland tofu! While legume-based burgers are still very popular and highly nutritious, there are other kinds of burgers and other fast-food favourites that are now being made in a lab, rather than on a farm.

The meat-free patty has been rebranded as “plant-forward,” which emphasizes taste and style, rather than just being vegetarian.

There are several reasons for the rise in popularity of plant-based protein, including ethical considerations, agriculture, economy, sustainability, and food security. Despite the fact that meat consumption continues to rise globally, there is undeniable proof from colon cancer and heart disease statistics that people still want to eat meat. Shoppers continue to choose their protein based on price, taste, and convenience.

Although plant-based meat currently has a relatively low market share, it’s expanding in the broader market. While plant-based milk commands more than 9% of total milk sales, plant-based meat only commands less than one-quarter of 1 percent of meat sales in the U.S. Nonetheless, the niche is growing, and it’s clear that the trend towards plant-based protein is here to stay.

Everywhere you look on social media you will see mouth-watering images of plants masquerading as meat including this perfect chickpea burger recipe Photographer Nelly le Comte and I created for our client Nuttelex, Australia’s oldest plant-based spread.

Meat often seen as the go-to source of protein, but what if you’re a vegetarian or vegan?

The good news is that you can find many of the same nutrients in plants, including amino acids. Plant-based meat is a new and exciting contender in the protein market. It offers a tasty and sustainable alternative to traditional animal-based protein sources. People often choose meat for its taste and texture, but with advances in food technology, scientists are now able to mimic the texture and mouthfeel of meat using plant-based ingredients. This means that you can still enjoy your favourite dishes, like slow-cooked stews or juicy burgers, without compromising on your dietary choices. So whether you’re a meat-lover or a plant-based enthusiast, there are plenty of protein options out there to suit your needs.

There are many plants that can masquerade as meat, as their texture can mimic animal protein.

Plant-based appetizers have come a long way in terms of variety and creativity. One example is the use of king oyster mushrooms to create a plant-based version of calamari, which can be sliced into rings and breaded or fried for a similar texture and flavour to traditional calamari. Another example is “cocomari,” a vegan appetizer made from young coconut flesh that is sliced and prepared to resemble calamari rings. These plant-based options offer a delicious and sustainable alternative to traditional appetizers.

There are several plant-based foods that have a texture similar to meat:

1. Jackfruit: This tropical fruit has a fibrous texture that is similar to pulled pork or chicken, and may be comparable to a soft to medium white flesh fish that you can flake with a fork. Popular in tacos, burghers and slow-cooked style dishes
See this recipe for my jackfruit pulled pork

2. Seitan: Also known as wheat meat, seitan has a chewy texture that is similar to beef or chicken. It is made from wheat gluten and can be flavoured with various seasonings.

3. Tofu: Tofu has a soft and spongy texture that can be firm or silken depending on the variety. It can be used as a meat substitute in stir-fries, sandwiches, and salads.

4. Tempeh: Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a firm and slightly chewy texture that is similar to meat. It can be used in sandwiches, salads, or as a meat substitute in stir-fries. See my recipes for tempeh here – and how about these cute little tempeh burgers below? Recipe here.

5. Mushrooms: Certain varieties of mushrooms, such as portobello and shiitake, have a spongy, yet firm bite, and a meaty texture when cooked. They can be used as a meat substitute in burgers, stir-fries, and other dishes.

Bruce Friedrich’s 2020 TED talk “Meat Without Animals: The Future of Food”

Bruce Friedrich is the co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute (GFI), an international nonprofit that is fostering a sustainable, healthy and just agricultural system through food innovation. GFI is accelerating the production of plant-based and cell-based meat, eggs and dairy in order to bolster the global protein supply while protecting our environment.

This talk discusses the importance of government investment and innovation in the development of plant-based and cell-based meat for future environmental sustainability, to eliminate global malnourishment, and to save modern medicine.

“The governments that innovate in this area will have bragging rights until the end of time.”[3]

The Rise of Plant-Based Meat

“Plant-based meats are starting to hit that sweet spot where they are competitive with the animal-based meat products that they’re replacing on the basis of taste, price, and accessibility. If something is just as delicious and just as inexpensive and just as accessible, in terms or being in a grocery store or restaurant, and easy to cook or use in your cuisine, a lot of people are going to buy it.” – Zak Weston, food service analyst at the Global Food Institute

  • US consumers bought 157 million units of plant-based meats in 2019, allowing the industry to grow 23% compared to the year before.[1]
  • Australia’s plant-based meat sector is set to elevate the nation’s economy by up to AUD $3 billion, and create thousands of jobs between now and 2030, according to a new world-first report.[2] 

People are becoming more aware that eating less meat may lower the risk of heart disease and potentially improve one’s state of health. We will continue to explore and discuss how people can increase their plant consumption.

Many plant-based consumers are incorporating protein-rich plant sources and testing out new recipes and flavour profiles. Thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and the ‘MasterChef effect’ it is becoming easier to upskill and discover delicious and easy-to-prepare recipes.

However, is the future of food transitioning from paddock to petri dish? Is the trend to mimic meat in plant-based food here to stay? For example, trying to replicate the sensation of biting into a meat burger in a plant-based burger? There currently exists a few different approaches.

In laboratories around the world, researchers are working on growing a variety of things using cutting-edge biotechnology and genetic engineering techniques. One area of particular interest is the development of lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or cell-based meat. By using animal cells and tissue engineering techniques, scientists can create meat products that are nearly identical to traditional animal meat, without the need for actual animals to be raised and slaughtered.

Other things being grown in laboratories include plant-based meat alternatives, such as those made from soy, wheat, and pea proteins. These plant-based meats are becoming increasingly popular as consumers seek out alternatives to traditional meat for health, environmental, and ethical reasons.

In addition, researchers are also growing various crops using innovative techniques such as hydroponics, which involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. This allows for more efficient use of resources and can help to mitigate the environmental impact of traditional agriculture.

Overall, the potential applications of laboratory-grown products are vast and varied, and it will be fascinating to see what other developments emerge in the future.

The plant-based food industry is evolving

Food manufacturers ranging from startups to leading CPG companies to the world’s largest meat companies are innovating rapidly in the plant-based market. Next-generation plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products are increasingly competitive with animal products on taste, price, and accessibility. Distribution is expanding, and a growing number of mainstream consumers are buying plant-based options. In the U.S., 98% of people who buy plant-based meat also purchase conventional meat.


Plant-Based Vs. Cell-Based Meat

Cell-based meat and plant-based meat alternatives are different. Plant-based meat alternatives are made entirely from plant-based ingredients, while cell-based meat is produced from animal cells that are grown in a lab. Plant-based meats typically use plant proteins and other ingredients to mimic the taste and texture of meat, while cell-based meats aim to replicate the real thing at a cellular level. The production process for cell-based meats is more similar to biotechnology than traditional food production, as it involves growing animal cells in a lab setting.

Did you know that scientists can now grow meat without hurting any animals? They use something called cell-culture technology, which means they take some cells from an animal and use them to grow meat in a lab. It’s like magic! They use fancy science stuff like biotechnology, tissue engineering, and molecular biology to make it happen.

This is really cool because it means we can have yummy meat without harming any animals. Lots of companies are starting to make meat this way, so we might see more and more of it in the future. It’s a great option for vegans who don’t want to eat farmed meat!”

Traditionally, the market for plant-based protein sources consisted mainly of soy, wheat, and pea products. However, there is a vast range of high-protein crops that are yet to be explored as a viable source for plant-based meat alternatives. Food technologists, biochemists, nutritionists, and chefs around the world are actively seeking out the next best plant-based product that delivers on flavour, texture and nutritional value to meet the increasing demand for meat alternatives.Fortunately, recent advancements in technology and research have allowed for plant-based meats to mimic the sensory experience of meat much more accurately, from the sizzling aroma on the grill to the juiciness of each bite. Some plant-based meat products even contain as much iron and protein as their animal-based counterparts.

Moreover, cultured meat, which is grown from animal cells without any harm to animals, is also emerging as a promising alternative to traditional meat products. These products offer the same great taste and texture as real meat while being gluten-free and cholesterol-free.

As consumers continue to prioritize health and sustainability in their food choices, it is clear that the plant-based meat market will continue to grow and offer a diverse range of options for individuals looking to reduce their environmental impact and enjoy healthy, ethical, and delicious food.”



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