Because of the weather changes and the fear of consequent food insecurity, many advocated that we should consume less animal-based products including meat etc. Animal foods need much more resources than plant foods so many people decided to eat less meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Many meat eaters missed eating burgers and fried chicken and omelette among other animal foods. When plant-based meat products appeared in the market they were happy but in some cases their joy was short-lived as many were disappointed.
Mintel reported the consumer concern about the taste, nutrition and price of plant-based meat alternatives. The price is very high of these products, which was supposed to have come down when scales of production increased. A large number said that taste and flavour of these products were major concern. Many also thought that texture was not what they expected and others thought that the products appeared excessively processed. With these concerns the markets have not picked up as expected as many consumers went back real meat which were cheaper and also tasted much better and had cleaner labels (1).
The properties of meat, fish and poultry differ from those of cereal, legumes and seeds with respect to eating qualities. This is mostly because of the types of proteins present in the two groups. Proteins not only show interactions with other macro-nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats but also with water that provide different food properties especially the texture which affects the mouthfeel and the eating quality. (2)
Proteins from meats provide a fibrous appearance while other groups do not easily show this. That needs extensive working on it for example using extrusion etc. and incorporating higher amount of moisture. Animal proteins have much higher water absorption properties which gives the meats softer chewy and juiciness feeling while eating (3). Plant proteins have lower water absorption which gives them drier feeling unless they are made to retain higher amount of moisture by addition of certain carbohydrates and additives.
Several plant-based ingredients have been used to produce meat analogues that appear, taste, smell and have the texture and the functionality and cooking impression of the meats with different degrees of success. Although it is not easy, it is possible to develop meat analogues using plant proteins that provide the products with delicate texture mimicking softness and juiciness. Besides the proper proteins and other ingredients, various processes such as thermo-extrusion, shear, spinning, cross-linking to produce fibrous texture using different conditions have been employed to prepare various formats such as plant-based burgers, patties, sausages, meatballs, imitation chicken nuggets and others (4).
Care also is needed to ensure the proper colour and flavour appears before and after cooking. Another consideration is that use of legumes and oilseeds may have some allergic reactions in some. Some pulses have their own smell which is not acceptable.
When all these aspects are considered and incorporated into the product, there are some problems such as cost goes up unless the large scale of production and sale brings down the costs. Second problem is use of many additives to ensure that the analogues look, taste, smell and feel like real meat. Many meat-eaters have tried to go away from animal-based foods with because of their concerns for health, sustainability and nature. They like to see friendly clean labels.
There are some developments taking place on cell-based cultured meats and fermentation-based mycoproteins that provide much better texture properties but these are not plant-based. There is some debate about these whether they would be acceptable to vegetarians so only time will tell their impact on market of plant-based meat analogues.
However, one thing is sure that there is plenty of opportunity for food scientists and technologists in the development of plant-based products simulating meats and animal-based products. These involve developments in processing and ingredients to prepare plant-based products that not only taste and look like animal-based products but are healthier and most importantly less expensive.
- Mazumder et al. 2023. Role of Plant Protein on the Quality & Structure of Meat Analogs. Future Foods 8 (2023) 100280
- Finnigan et al., 2019. Mycoprotein: the future of nutritious nonmeat protein, a symposium review. Curr. Develop. Nutr. 3 (2019), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzz021
- Zhang et al., 2020. Challenges and possibilities for bio-manufacturing cultured meat. Trends Food Sci. Technol. 97, 443–450.