It’s an exciting time to be a vegetarian in India. The non-meaty sources of protein are no more restricted to nuts, pulses and leafy greens. With peas pounded to mimic juicy burger patties, shredded jackfruit impersonating as pulled pork, minced mushrooms masquerading as steak and tempey staring in tacos, vegetarians are clearly having a moment.
Restaurants and supermarkets are now stocked with vegan and other vegetarian options that use culinary ingenuity and a fair amount of science and innovation to actually make plants based proteins taste like meat. And even if you haven’t tried one yet, the F& B forecasters say you soon will. The plant based meat segment is projected to explode very soon.
Interestingly the majority of people who eat plant-based meats are not vegans or vegetarians. Instead, they’re omnivores who want diversity in their diet. The reasons are manifold.
Health is wealth
Health and food safety concerns in relation to GMOs appear to be the driving decision-makers for meat alternative buyers. In recent years, a growing body of research has linked the consumption of meat to problems such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Processed meat, in particular, has been found to be dangerous to human health. By incorporating plant-based meats into their diet people are able to cut down on their weekly meat consumption, improving their overall health in the process.
The environmental benefits of plant-based meats can’t be overlooked either. The meat industry is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the world, according to the United Nations.
Meat production also leads to deforestation, land degradation, and water contamination, the UN adds. “Though I am not a vegetarian I want to reduce my meat consumption a little bit and replace it with more plants. But I want to do that with something that’s delicious, affordable and easy to cook,” says Milan Rathore, a media professional.
It’s raining plant protein
There has been a flurry of activity in the plant meat segment. Mumbai start up Blue Tribe Foods launched their plant-based chicken nuggets made of soya and peas and Chicken Keema made with soy extracts. Goa based Wakao Foods has been enticing meat eaters with burger patties and stir fries made of jackfruit. The meat-like texture of their teriyaki and barbeque variants makes for a guilt-free vegan and gluten-free alternative for those looking for a healthier choice. The coal smoked tofu from Bengaluru’s Living Food Co makes an excellent addition to salads, soups, sandwiches and stews. Even Bollywood actors Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh have announced a new plant-based venture called Imagine Meats. The newest entrant in the exciting protein party is Bengaluru-based Vegolution. Their product Hello Tempayy is made by fermenting soybeans. “Tempeh, unlike paneer and tofu absorbs flavour well allowing us to offer marinated varieties which make it even more flavourful and easy to use. We have also priced it at par with good quality paneer to ensure affordability. It makes great curries, stir-fries, tacos and kebabs,” says Siddharth Ramasubramanian, Founder & CEO Vegolution.
Aside from hearty jackfruit curries and delectable tempeh fries, there is another vegetarian food trend making waves in the culinary circuit, namely mock meat. Also known as meat analogue, faux meat or vegan meat, it is a cruelty-free substitute for animal-derived meat. It looks like meat, cooks like meat and tastes like meat but it’s better for the environment and doesn’t involve killing any animals. “Mock meat are mostly soy based which is very healthy. If taken in moderation these meat substitutes are a good choice to cut down on your animal protein. Whichever diet you follow just ensure that your body gets adequate minerals and vitamins,” says Daljit Kaur, Chief Dietitian, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, New Delhi.
Restaurants rise to the occasion
Bastian the high-end restaurant in Mumbai has beefed up its vegetarian offerings with crispy tofu served with chili oil and peanut sauce, jackfruit tacos and vegan bowls. “We are witnessing an increased demand for vegetarians options mainly plant-based proteins from guests. Our Sri Lankan curries with soy and wheat based mock meat are particularly popular among the urban millennials who are health conscious but don’t want to compromise on taste. The bottom line is that vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only people eating ‘fake’ meat, meat eaters are also exploring this new found protein superpower,” says Amol Phute, executive chef, Bastian Hospitality Pvt Ltd.