It’s no secret that the commercial meat, egg and dairy alternatives industry has been skyrocketing in recent years. Indeed, while mock meat has long been a staple on grocery shelves in China – tofu, tempeh and soy- and konjac-based “meat” have been used in Chinese cooking for centuries – it’s only in the past few decades that the culinary movement has truly taken root in the West.
Buoyed by rising health consciousness and environmentalism, you can now find hundreds of plant-based alternatives on the market: from early players like Quorn and Impossible Burger to newer upstarts such as Karana and Just Egg. According to market research firm Meticulous Research, the industry is projected to be worth a staggering US$74.2 billion by 2027, with enormous room for growth in the interim.
Read on to find out more about the some of the most intriguing (and tasty) plant-based alternatives, and how you can try them for yourself.
1. Karana: Pork
Heralded as Asia’s first whole-plant-based meat company, Singapore-based Karana has just launched its exciting flagship product in the city-state. The brand’s substitute for pork is made entirely from young jackfruit grown in smallholder farmers across Sri Lanka, before being minimally processed into the sustainable meat substitute. The juicy and flavour-packed product – which has a dense and meat-like mouthfeel – works particularly well as a substitute in Asian dishes that normally call for pork, such as Chinese dumplings, banh mi, minced meat noodles and lettuce wraps, though it’s equally delicious in a humble sandwich or sloppy joe. You can find it on the menu at sustainable-minded restaurant Open Farm Community in the form of the moreish Karana Roll (jackfruit “meat” stuffed into a fluffy bread roll); as a “char siew” option to add to your grain bowl at Grain Traders; in the plant-based ngoh hiang at Michelin-starred Peranakan establishment Candlenut (from 3 February); and also at Butcher Boy, Atout and Morsels. The brand is planning an imminent Hong Kong launch, with plans to roll out to supermarkets in the coming months.
2. Steak 2.0: Beef
Spanish company NovaMeat has done something that was previously thought unlikely, if not impossible: develop and manufacture a synthetic, 3D-printed beef substitute that mimics the appearance, taste and texture of steak. The company’s plant-based Steak 2.0 is made with ingredients including peas, seaweed and beetroot juice, which are manipulated using a patented micro-extrusion technology to replicate the texture of muscle tissue. Production on the product is set to ramp up in 2021, and the company has partnered with Michelin-starred restaurant Disfrutar to make the product available to their diners ahead of its large-scale debut.
3. New Wave Shrimp: Shrimp
Also set for a 2021 launch is New Wave Shrimp, a shrimp substitute created by United States-based New Wave Foods in order to introduce a plant-based option to the over 1.4 billion pounds of shrimp that Americans consume annually. It’s crafted using sustainably farmed seaweed from across the globe, along with mung bean protein and various natural flavours: the seaweed is what gives the product its bite and succulent texture, while the all-natural plant extracts contribute the briny, savoury and subtly sweet notes that the crustacean is known for. The company plans to push its product out to restaurants in the US in early 2021.
4. Ahimi: Tuna
Ahimi is a tuna alternative from Ocean Hugger Foods that’s made using tomatoes, soy sauce, water, sesame oil and sugar. It’s a spot-on approximation of raw tuna, and features in sushi sold at selected Whole Foods stores in the United States and at various restaurants and sushi bars across the country. Ahimi was born when founder James Corwell visited Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market and was shocked by the amount of tuna being auctioned. “It was a natural starting point for our plant-based [seafood] alternatives, which aim to mitigate the pressures on our oceans,” says director of marketing Ashley Bouldin. Following the launch of Ahimi, the brand went on to launch Unami (eggplant-based eel), with another product dubbed Sakimi (carrot-based salmon) also in the works.
5. Gauthier Soho: Foie gras
Michelin-starred Gauthier Soho in London already offers a highly popular vegan tasting menu, but it has outdone itself with its latest culinary innovation: plant-based foie gras. Dubbed “faux gras”, the creation is made from mushrooms, beetroot, lentils, shallots and walnuts, and is served alongside freshly toasted sourdough with a topping of vegan butter as a meat-free amuse bouche. “Liver has an unctuous mouthfeel… walnuts and button mushrooms give [faux gras] the rich, oily body required, while fresh herbs, soy sauce, cognac and black pepper give it an umami flavour,” explains chef-owner Alex Gauthier, who collaborated with animal rights group PETA to create the dish. “Happily, it goes very well with Champagne!”
6. Just Egg: Eggs
San Francisco start-up Eat Just may have cracked the formula for the perfect eggless egg. Its marquee offering, the yellow-hued Just Egg, is made from mung bean, and scrambles in the pan in a similar way to eggs. “We had previously developed [plant-based] products like Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough, where we were replacing eggs in an existing food,” shares Ben Roche, a chef and the company’s director of product development. “It felt like a natural progression to simply redesign the egg itself.” Just Egg is available in both liquid and patty forms and is served up at Flore in San Francisco and Green Common in Hong Kong, among others. As of 2021, it has inked a deal to establish a facility in Singapore to expand its presence in the region, and will additionally focus on cultivating cultured meat.
7. Omnipork: Pork
You won’t feel guilty pigging out on Omnipork, a pork analogue dreamt up by Hong Kong food-tech startup Right Treat. Derived from peas, non-GMO soy, shiitake mushrooms and rice, the versatile protein can be steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried, stuffed and more. “What excites me most is that from a culinary standpoint, Omnipork empowers chefs [across cuisines] to create infinite plant-based dishes,” enthuses founder David Yeung. It made its debut in vegan xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) at Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred Ming Court restaurant in June 2018 and went on to grace more menus all across the city. Today, it also comes in the form of plant-based luncheon meat and shredded pork strips.
8. Chicken Free Chicken: Chicken
Poultry, the ubiquitous supermarket staple, has undergone a vegan makeover thanks to Chicken Free Chicken from Sunfed. Made from meatless ingredients such as pea protein, rice bran oil and pumpkin, “it is clean and lean, with double the protein of chicken and triple the iron of beef,” shares founder and CEO Shama Lee. Launched in July 2017, the product purportedly sold out within a day and has continued flying off the shelves ever since. Get a taste at The Butcher’s Son in Auckland, New Zealand, where it comes in the form of a hearty burger dressed with miso slaw, baby spinach and chilli jam, or pick up a packet at supermarkets in New Zealand and Australia.
This article was first published on 7 August 2018.