Mock Meat – Fake, Fad or the Future of Food?
In the 21st century, there are also sorts of reasons for cutting down on meat, or eliminating it from the diet altogether. Meat production is bad for the environment, and meat eating has a number of associated health risks and it’s plainly bad for the animals slaughtered for our tables. But you may have noticed companies like Starbucks and Fresh Direct offering new promotions involving beyond meat. There are coupons for new and existing customers where you can substitute your meat for beyond meat. But what is it?
Introducing Mock Meat.
Mock meat (not to be confused with cultured meat), variously made from foods like soy, wheat and mycoprotein, is a creative solution to these problems, and the market for such products is expanding year on year. But humans can be as conservative as they are innovative, and mock meat is still controversial, on several fronts.
Meatless substitutes are nothing new. But for a number of years, the cost of meat-less substitutes has been prohibitive. Sure, you can use a 10 off coupon for getting from Bodybuilding.com or another site. But the products were not only expensive, but of varying quality.
Common Criticisms Are Starting To Disappear.
A common criticism of vegetarian meat is that it doesn’t taste like meat, and the texture or ‘mouth feel’ isn’t equivalent. That’s a matter of personal opinion and – literally – taste. There are many types and brands of meat substitute available, some of which are more meat-like than others. Some people can barely tell the difference. Some even prefer the taste of meat analogues. Others are prepared to sacrifice a bit of authenticity to enjoy vegetarian versions of much-loved, traditional meat dishes with a clear conscience, on both ecological and animal welfare grounds.
Technology is advancing on the imitation front, with products such as the Impossible Burger, launched in 2016. Its USP is that it includes a molecule called heme, which is one of the things that makes meat taste meaty. The Impossible Burger uses plant-derived heme, originating in soy and cultured with yeast. The result: a meaty-tasting burger that ‘bleeds’. Far from being a pale imitation, it has even found its way onto the menu of Michelin-starred top restaurants.
A more substantial criticism of imitation meat products is that they are energy-intensive to produce. However, that depends on the individual product. Think of the energy needed to produce meat: from animal food through to operating slaughterhouses. US scientists have calculated that it takes more than 15 000 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of beef. The makers of the Impossible Burger estimate that their manufacture requires 95% less land and three quarters less water than beef production, and is close to 90% cleaner when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.
The health implications are perhaps even more worrying for some skeptics, especially in the light of concerns about processed foods. Many meat alternatives are made by a process called extrusion – the same process used for items like breakfast cereals, which are clearly safe. The jury is still out on how degrees of processing affect nutritional value, but all products are tested to ensure that they are safe for human consumption. It may not be the degree of processing and engineering that’s the problem, but the extent to which manufacturers add sugar, salt, fat and chemical additives.
In fact, meat-free meats, made from wheat gluten (seitan) and mushrooms have featured in oriental cuisine for centuries, with no adverse effects. Modern takes on these traditional dishes include tofurkey, a faux turkey roast made from tofu, which is in turn made from bean curd. Quality vegetarian meat products provide ample protein, are high in fibre and low in fat, which is helpful for low cholesterol diets. Some, but not all, are also suitable for vegans. Like all foods, their nutritional value depends on the specific recipe, so it’s worth reading the labels and trying out different brands.
Modern cuisine has moved away from meals where meat is the centrepiece and vegetables the accessory. Flavour is all, and meat alternatives are ideal for absorbing the taste of sauces and seasonings. Contrary to a widespread popular misconception, meat alternatives aren’t just for vegetarians, who are often perfectly happy with a diet whose ingredients don’t resemble meat. They are also ideal for flexitarians, who wish to reduce their meat intake for ethical or health reasons. It’s not about settling for food that’s inferior to the real thing. Growing demand shows that meat alternatives are not just trendy now, but a food for the future, with quality and taste improving all the time.