By John Salak –
Science is looking to spice up the mock meat market by making these faux products tastier, healthier and more ecofriendly.
It’s a boost that undoubtedly will be welcomed by both producers and consumers, although demand for meat, fish and even egg substitutes has more than held their own in the last few years thanks to a combination of factors.
Mock meats, of course, have been around for a while and claim a loyal and growing following. Proponents are drawn to these products for health and ethical concerns. Their advent has been further fostered more recently by popular food chains such as Burger King and McDonalds, introducing plant-based meat alternatives to their menus.
WellWell, however, has repeatedly pointed out that some of these alternatives may not be as healthy as first thought. Some soy-based alternatives may even have environmental issues.
These concerns, however, haven’t stymied the market for alternative meat products. In fact, consumption have been soaring of late. Shipments of alternative meats to restaurants jumped by 60 percent in April from the same year-ago period. Part of the increase is the result of restaurants reopening as pandemic-restrictions are being lifted. But the jump is still significant compared to pre-pandemic conditions.
Not only are people eating more mock meats, but the category is also actually starting to take a bite out of the burger market, which goes beyond growing demand for alternatives from restaurants, The Washington Post reported.
The issue, apparently, is price.
“Myriad pandemic pressures upended the pricing formulas for both traditional meat and plant-based proteins, making alt-meat a more competitive choice at the grocery store, far more quickly than any expert could have predicted,” the newspaper reported.
All of this is great news for the alt-meat industry, but this growth could be stymied and even pushed back if meat prices fall. This is the focal point for scientist, who are trying to address the taste, health and even climate-impact issues tied to mock meats.
The challenge is daunting, according to a study out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Good Food Institute are lining up to help, however, by funding the development of a multidisciplinary team to explore designing better plant-based protein.
UMass’s David Julian McClements was quick to note in the paper that, “a plant-based diet is not necessarily better than an omnivore diet from a nutritional perspective.”
Besides these products being high in calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar, plant-based products need to be fortified with micronutrients that are naturally contained in animal meat, milk and eggs, including Vitamin D, calcium and zinc. These alternatives also need to be digestible and provide the full complement of essential amino acids.
“We’re trying to make processed food healthier,” reported McClements, whose work aims to holistic approach to the challenge. “We aim to design them to have all the vitamins and minerals you need and have health-promoting components like dietary fiber and phytochemicals so that they taste good and they’re convenient and they’re cheap and you can easily incorporate them into your life. That’s the goal in the future, but we’re not there yet for most products.”