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In the heart of Borough Market, there’s a street food stall called Big V London selling burgers with cheese and bacon. Young Vegans in London’s Camden Market will sell you a steak-and-ale pie and at Waitrose you’ll find Vivera shawarma kebab shreds. Not one of these foods started life on a farm.
WHAT ARE VEGAN ‘MEATS’ MADE OF?
The ideal meat substitute is high in protein and can be processed to take on the toothsome, stretchy texture of beef, pork, chicken or lamb. Launched in the mid-1980s, Quorn is the original. It is fermented fungi bound with egg albumen or for vegans, potato protein. Chefs also use seitan (wheat gluten), or soy; a combination of the two works best.
THEY ALSO USE A VEGETABLE CALLED JACKFRUIT TO MIMIC PULLED PORK, DON’T THEY?
Yes, Starbucks offers a wrap with barbecued jackfruit, slaw and spinach, and healthy fast food retailer, Crussh, sells jackfruit Mexican tinga, a dish traditionally made with shredded chicken. Jackfruit has great texture but isn’t as high in protein as the other replacements and is harder to source.
HOW DO PLANT MEATS TASTE?
The protein base is pretty bland. It’s up to cooks and manufacturers to try to replicate the Maillard reaction – that deeply savoury caramelisation you get when amino acids react with sugars at high temperatures. Browning on your steak, in other words. They pack in umami flavour using garlic, smoked paprika or shiitake mushroom powder plus yeast extract, herbs, salt, barbecue and other seasonings.
WHY TRY TO MIMIC MEAT IF FLESH IS THE ENEMY?
Because new vegans say you sometimes long to ‘sink your face into a burger’, tuck into a full English or have roast beef with all the trimmings. Another reason is sociability. The closer your meatfree meal resembles what everyone else is eating, the less of a party pooper you feel. A third reason is familiarity. It’s easier to take a meatfree version of a food you know such as a sausage and serve it with mash and gravy, than learn a whole new way of cooking. This is especially true when you come home tired and hungry.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR THE FOOD INDUSTRY THEN?
You bet, and Linda McCartney Foods sussed this out over 25 years ago. Found in most supermarket freezers, their vegan range includes sausages, beef roast, beef, mushroom and spinach wellington bites, scampi bites and shredded duck. In the last year, Tesco has seen demand for frozen meat-free foods increase by 70%. Accordingly, in January, they launched Oumph!, a range of flavoured and neutral soy protein chunks and strips.
HOW CAN INDEPENDENTS MAKE THE MOST OF THIS TREND?
Ask your customers if they’d like to buy vegan meats and ready meals. Older consumers may be looking to reduce red meat for health reasons. They may struggle to feed children or grandchildren in their 20s, a quarter of whom are either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian (YouGov survey, 2017). A good time to promote your offering is Veganuary, National Vegetarian Week and Meat-free May, but once a week you can declare a meat-free Monday.
Are there any meat and dairy-free mains on your café or restaurant menu? If your chefs lack confidence, consider sending them on a vegan cookery course. They don’t have to use seitan, tofu or jackfruit. At healthy fast food chain, Leon, Trend Watch tried some delicious new meatless meatballs made from aubergine, onion and black olives in a breadcrumb of rice and chickpea flours. Much of the pleasure of meaty vegan treats is down to borrowed interest – punchy gravy, toasted sesame buns, smoky ketchup, juicy fried onions and in the case of the meatballs, well-made tomato sauce.
WHOSE PRODUCTS SHOULD I BUY?
Quorn sales were up 19% in the first half of 2017 so that’s a good place to start. Expert Sean O’Callaghan who blogs as Fat Gay Vegan and is the author of Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give A Sh-t! says vegan meats have improved beyond recognition in the last five years. He recommends the Tofurky brand and also Sgaia – ‘one of the best vegan brands on the planet’. Based in Scotland, Sgaia makes pastrami, streaky bacon, rare roast beef and Italian pepperoni from ma soy and wheat gluten mix.
Food consultant, Arianna Halshaw, likes the frozen herb schnitzels from The Fry Family Food Company and The Tofoo Company’s products. Experienced vegan cooks like her will want to buy tofu, wheat gluten powder and neutral meat replacements like Manna Plant Meat’s soy mince for preparing themselves, but most would rather someone else did the hard work. Don’t forget, seitan isn’t suitable for gluten-free customers.
WILL THE TREND LAST?
Oh, yes. Flexitarianism is here to stay. A Mintel report found that 28% of meat-eating Brits had reduced or limited meat consumption in the previous six months to August 2017. So swallow your preconceptions, forget yesterday’s grey-brown soya granules and try the meat that has never been near a farm.