Written by Olga Jeklova
The food industry is changing. Ecology and sustainability are current trends number one. Food production is one of the main pollution contributors out of all industries. This fact did not go unnoticed. Worldwide protests and campaigns brought out the need for more eco-friendly food. With the heaviest attention to meat and dairy. Plant-based alternatives are taking more and more portions of the food market.
It’s not just the ecology though. Many people are choosing vegan for health reasons, to get more variety or just to try something new. And food producers react. From bigger aisles in stores to completely vegan fast-food restaurants.
These are some of the trends in plant-based alternatives.
- Beyond meat and other meat substitutes
On the 2nd of May 2019, Los Angeles based company Beyond Meat made history when it entered the stock market in IPO as a first plant-based alternatives producer. Investors, including Bill Gates and Leonardo Di Caprio, quickly dug their teeth into this plant meat company and its value skyrocketed. Beyond Meat, stocks are now the hottest stocks on the market. Even though this won’t last forever and the stocks will inevitably go down, Beyond Meat’s success is a sign of a growing demand for meat alternatives. Entering the menus of fast-food chains like Burger King or independent restaurants, this product target not just the vegetarian and vegan community but the general public as well.
The times when the only alternatives were wheat seitan or soya-based products like tofu or tempeh are gone. The current trend is to make products that imitate real meat as much as possible. By sensory but also technological characteristics. Beyond Meat’s rival, Impossible Foods is making burgers and ground meat that is leaking blood-like liquid using a protein found in the roots of soybeans. Leghemoglobin, as is the protein called, is however quite controversial. Even though its use is not forbidden the safety of leghemoglobin was not proven yet. The second reason is that the protein is produced in fermenters by yeast that’s been injected with soybeans genes. That makes them GMO products which are a controversial topic on its own.
Apart from burgers, the companies are also producing chicken, pork and other meat alternatives.
2. Fish alternatives
Following the boom of plant-based new, new fish alternatives are starting to fill the gap in the market. According to some scientists and ecologists, plant-based fish and seafood alternatives might be an answer to overfishing and pollution caused by fishing. One of the most affected kinds affected by overfishing is tuna. One of the pioneers of alternative fish products is company Good Catch. Their tuna products can be found in supermarkets in the US and they are in talks of bringing their products to the UK in cooperation with Tesco. Many more companies are focusing on fish and seafood. Impossible Foods are also planning to release their fish products.
Most nutritionists will agree that legumes are incredibly beneficial for people. Be it for the amount of fiber, protein or other nutrients they contain. Especially fiber is something that the majority of the population is lacking in their nutrition. Legumes are not very popular with many people. They can cause bloating, the preparation is lengthy and their flavor is quite earthy which is something a lot of people dislike. The bloating that is caused by none-digestible oligosaccharides can be reduced or removed by simple processing but that is also not a widely known fact.
Fortunately, legumes are becoming popular alternative ingredients. Peas, beans, lentils are the most common. They are in majority used for meat. For instance, pea protein is used for already mentioned Beyond Meat’s burgers. Legumes are used for a variety of products, like bratwurst, tacos, and chicken or fish alternatives. But it doesn’t end here. One of the last trends in the use as an alternative for plant-based products. Red lentil pasta is just one example. White wheat pasta is lacking in many nutrition as opposed to the legume ones.
Seaweed is not a new ingredient. It’s been used in Asia for ages. The main nutritional benefit of seaweed is high iodin value that helps thyroid function. The high amount of fiber, minerals, and vitamins is also very beneficial. Especially vitamin B12 that is sourced mainly from red meat, milk or eggs, and is often deficient in the vegan diet. There are contradictive opinions on whether humans can absorb vitamin B12 from seaweed. Its protein content is very good as well. Seaweed is often used as an ingredient for plant-based alternatives not just for the nutritional value but also for technological reasons.
Polysaccharides as agar, carrageenan, and alginate have water retention, gelling and emulsifying functions. In vegan products, seaweed is often used instead of animal gelatin.
Seaweed might be the new superfood but its consumption shouldn’t be too high. Too much of iodine is just as problematic as the lack of. That can be avoided by eating food high in goitrogens like cabbage and broccoli. Goitrogens inhibit the amount of iodine that is absorbed by thyroid glans.
Low fat, low cholesterol, and low calorie but high in vitamins, proteins, and minor minerals. Mushrooms are also very beneficial.
Healthier snacks were one of the trends of 2019. In 2018 having the largest growth in new product development, snacks made of vegetables, fruit, roots, and rice are forced to be reckoned with. Mushrooms based snacks, like shiitake mushroom crisps, are part of it. Mushroom jerky could be a good meat-free alternative to the popular beef jerky.
Even though it’s not plant-based let’s say a few words about insect meat. Eating bugs and worms is something repulsive to a lot of the Western people. But, many scientists agree that it is the future of human nutrition. With the growing world population, there is also a growing need for a cheap, sustainable, low material protein. As opposed to the husbandry of common animals growing insects requires less space, equipment, water, and feed. Insect based products are making their way into the mainstream market right now and only the future will tell if they’ll stay there.