Meat substitutes – more choice than ever
Meat is a mainstay of cuisine in most cultures. In Germany, for instance, an average person consumes over 50 kg of meat a year. It’s no secret that global meat consumption has a huge environmental impact. Nowadays there are meat alternatives on the market that not only help cut meat consumption but work perfectly as standalone products in their own right. These are usually plant-based foods that have a comparable protein content to meat products and provide the right nutrition. It’s also about taste and consistency, of course, as they need to have a meaty texture and flavour.
Plant-based meat alternatives are not a new idea. The soy sausage is seen as the classic meat substitute and first appeared around 20 years ago at a time when there was growing public interest in the meat alternatives section of supermarket fridges. What many don’t know is that this sausage actually made its debut around a hundred years ago. Konrad Adenauer, who would go on to become Chancellor of Germany and became known as an amateur inventor outside his political career, was also involved in the food sector. The soy sausage was one of his inventions, which he patented under the name ‘Friedenswurst’ or ‘peace sausage’. He planned to use it after the First World War to alleviate serious food shortages. His idea was that plant proteins could make up for the lack of meat protein as the sausage was made from protein-rich soya beans. Interestingly, soya bean curd – tofu – has been a mainstay of Japanese cuisine for centuries.
You can usually find tofu in a block that can be cut into strips or cubes. Firm tofu can be used plain, seasoned or marinated and added to soups, or fried and put in salads and sauces. Shops frequently sell dried soya chunks, which are softened up in stock first and then fried. The chunks are great for making meatless mince.
One alternative to soya is jackfruit. It grows in tropical countries and has been used as a meat substitute in its unripe state for years as its fibrous flesh has a similar texture to a slow-cooked joint when cooked. This texture makes it a popular choice to replace ‘pulled’ meat in burgers and tacos. In contrast to tofu, jackfruit contains a considerable amount of fibre, as well as vitamins and minerals, but unlike soya products, it has a meagre protein content.
Dried and grated jackfruit also comes in a mixture with pea protein, which works great as a mince replacement in bolognese. The mixture is prepared in a similar way to the soya chunks: softened in stock and then fried. However, to create a source of protein with a high biological value (how efficient protein in food is converted to proteins in the body), you need to combine pea protein, which is now widely used as a meat substitute, with other plant-based protein sources.
Burger fans don’t have to go without these days. Patties made from pea protein are now available, and they don’t just look deceptively real, they also taste like a freshly made burger. Vegetarians are now free to enjoy a good barbecue.
If you fancy a hearty ragu and are looking for a way to recreate the taste using vegetarian ingredients, you can achieve a beautiful umami taste by using fried mushrooms and a full-bodied red wine. Simply sauté a good portion of mixed mushrooms and cook with onions, garlic, lentils, carrots, rosemary and some tomato puree. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and add in tomatoes to make a delicious winter ragu. It goes perfectly with pasta, mashed potatoes or polenta.
If you want to reduce your meat consumption or cut it out completely, there are a whole host of substitutes you can use. Many of these products are fully fledged foods in their own right, and it’s worth being a little adventurous and giving them a go.