Ms Simran D'mello,
St. Xavier's College (Autonomous),
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Over the past few years, the rising consciousness among people when it comes to keeping healthy and fit, coupled with the increase in the number of people who have turned vegan as a conscious effort supporting a particular cause or simply for health reasons and those who are vegetarians for religious purposes, has resulted in the evolution of a new, healthy alternative to red meat called- ‘plant-based meat’. They are ‘sustainable transition foods' that are environment-friendly and could help to get people to eat less meat and allow vegans and vegetarians to enjoy a realistic version of the foods they would be missing out on otherwise.
What is plant-based meat?
Plant-based meats are food products that are essentially composed of plant-based ingredients but have the same flavour, smell, taste and texture as red meat. Tofu and soya were initially considered to be a substitute for beef or chicken. However, with the increasing demand for more realistic alternatives, plant-based meat was created. These plant-based meats are found in the freezers of grocery stores.
Some of the brands that sell these plant-based products are:
● Impossible foods
● Beyond meat
● Lightlife foods
● Boca Burger
Pea protein or soy protein is used to make up the patties for burgers.
The common ingredients used in plant-based meat are:
● Vegetable protein
● Coconut oil
● Beetroot juice extract
The making of plant-based meat
Animal meat is essentially made up of muscle tissue. Plants have no muscles. So the question is how do these plants ultimately transform into a piece of meat which has the same smell, taste and texture as that of animal meat?
Animal meat contains proteins, fats, water, minerals and vitamins. Although plants do not have muscles, they do have vitamins, proteins, fats and minerals similar to animal meat. It is this biochemical similarity between the two that results in the formation of plant-based meat.
A suitable replacement for each functional group or protein present in the animal meat within the plant kingdom is taken. If no replacement is found, the plant ingredient is treated mechanically, biologically or chemically to create a replacement. The unique texture observed in animal meat is a result of the arrangement of the proteins in the muscle tissue.
Plant-based meat is produced in three steps:
The crops are initially grown as a source of raw material.
These crops are then processed to remove the plant’s unwanted parts.
The desired ingredients are then combined and undergo the manufacturing processes to create the texture required for meat.
A recent collaboration by researchers from The University of Bath, the Good Food Institute and The Centre for Long Term Priorities, led to a quantitative comparison of the attitude and feedback of consumers towards plant-based meat across India, China and the U.S. It was clearly evident from this survey that the percentage of people in India and China that consume plant-based foods is nearly twice as much as those who consume it in the United States. This clearly signifies the growing demand for plant-based food in Asian countries over the years.
According to a recent survey conducted by Startups, in The United Kingdom, since 2021 there has been an increased demand for plant-based meat. This has led to the culmination of a number of vegan companies like Meatless Farm, etc. across the country. By the near end of 2021, it was predicted that over 13 million Brits completely became meat-free, which comprises 40% of the UK population.
The Chemistry involved in Plant-Based Meat
Would you believe me if I told you that the picture above is that of a 100% plant-based burger from Impossible Foods? Believe me or not it is!!
A study conducted by the American Chemical Society states that the colour seen in animal meat comes from myoglobin - a compound which transfers oxygen from the blood to the muscle tissue. Myoglobin has heme, a porphyrin ring with an iron atom in the centre. Denaturation of myoglobin takes place as meat cooks, thus releasing the heme. The iron in myoglobin results in the colour change of meat while it cooks, which leads to the oxidation of Fe(II) - heme red complex to Fe(III) - heme brown complex.
In the case of plant-based meat, products sold in Beyond Meat get their colour from beet extract while others available in Impossible Foods obtain their colour from an iron-containing compound - leghaemoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen, which can be found in the roots of legumes. This molecule is either produced in soybeans or genetically modified yeast. These plant-based meat substitutes are composed of a mixture of soy and wheat gluten. They are seen as thin, spongy patties which are coloured in order to look brown similar to beef. In order to obtain a fibrous, meat-like texture from plant-based protein, globular plant proteins are stretched into strings. This is carried out by the technique of ‘high-moisture extrusion’- a technique that is adopted to texturise plant-based protein into animal protein.
Is Plant-Based Meat healthy?
This is a question many of us ponder over. In spite of it becoming a way of life in countries like the United States, how do we know for sure how ethical and safe it is to consume? Why is it considered to be healthier than animal meat? How do we know that it is going to provide animal meat consumers with the same amount of protein and nutrients that they have been obtaining through their non-vegetarian diets?
Research conducted by The U.S.National Institutes of Health states that plants are rich in fibre and low on calories. It helps in improving and maintaining the health of our gut which enables better absorption of essential nutrients. It helps to keep one’s cholesterol and glucose levels under control and boosts our immune systems, especially these days when there is a need for all of us to keep our immunity high. Moreover, the absence of hormones in vegan foods makes them a better choice compared to animal products which are injected with hormones. Soybean and pea protein can both be consumed as a protein supplement that will suffice as a replacement for the nutrition provided by animal meat.
Going vegan will not only lead to health benefits but it is also good for the environment. The lesser population would be suffering from obesity, especially the youth and there will be a lower death toll caused a result of high cholesterol leading to heart attacks. Although research does show that one will see great outcomes by consuming plant-based products, in the end, it boils down to what suits and works for each individual.
It is not easy to shift overnight to a different lifestyle, especially for hard-core meat eaters. Each individual has a different requirement for the nutrients they should consume in a day. It is therefore advisable to consult a doctor first.
1. Melissae Fellet. (2015, October 13). A Fresh Take on Fake Meat. ACS Publications. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acscentsci.5b00307
2. Christopher Bryant, Keri Szejda, Varun Deshpande, Nishant Parekh, Brian Tse. (2019, February 27). A Survey of Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based and Clean Meat in the USA, India, and China. The University of Bath. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/publications/a-survey-of-consumer-perceptions-of-plant-based-and-clean-meat-in
3. Ross Darragh. (2022, January 27). Plant-based meat: an industry full of potential. Startups. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://startups.co.uk/sustainability/plant-based-meat-an-industry-full-of-potential/