February 15, 2019

Understanding plant-based meat substitutes

There's a growing trend in eating habits among people across the U.S., one that involves reduced consumption of animal-based proteins. This movement includes a variety of different options used by a wide range of eaters. From flexitarianism that reduces but doesn't eliminate meat from diets to strict vegetarian and vegan diets, people in general are looking toward alternative sources of protein. A variety of articles, research and statistics gathered by the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior highlight both the growing interest in these diets and the many ways in which individuals explore them.

For online culinary school students, a strong understanding of plant-based meat substitutes is important. These alternatives are one of the more popular and recent types of food to emerge from the general trend toward reducing animal protein consumption. Additionally, they're already used in a number of different restaurants – and not only those that specifically cater to infrequent meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans.

A salad topped with a meat substitute served on a table with crackers.Meat substitutes are increasingly common in the culinary world.

Learning more about plant-based alternatives for meat

Non-meat dishes that aim to replicate the taste, texture, flavor or nutritional content of traditional animal-based proteins aren't exactly new. Tofu and seitan are both established options, with many years of history behind them. While these dishes have a number of flavor and nutritional advantages and can be successfully incorporated into many meals inspired by animal proteins, one area where they don't quite measure up is their resemblance to the texture and mouthfeel of meat.

Dishes like meatloaf and others that incorporate ground protein and a variety of seasonings and other ingredients can be easier to make with meatless alternatives, thanks to the more diverse flavor profile and lack of whole cuts. For meals where meat takes a more central and individual role, like burgers and steaks, newer alternatives play a key role in simulating animal-based protein without actually including it in a dish.

Companies like Impossible Foods, which recently announced plans to introduce a steak based entirely on non-animal alternatives, according to Eater, lead the way in offering substitutes for meat in dishes where it stars. The Impossible Burger, which is already in widespread circulation at a number of restaurants, has seen positive results. One Eater reviewer named the Impossible Burger sliders at White Castle the best fast-food burger. Another big name in meat alternatives, Beyond Meat, has been credited with helping A&W Canada improve performance, Yahoo! reported. Beyond Meat also offers products in grocery stores, expanding the take-home market.

While fast food provides some of the most readily visible results thanks to their broad reach and volume of sales, meat alternatives aren't only popular in quick service environments. Impossible Burgers are available at more than 5,000 restaurants, according to the company, and there's a mix of casual, upscale, trendy and traditional eateries among the many places that serve this type of meat alternative.

In terms of incorporating this option into your own menu, there aren't many particularly difficult considerations. As long as there's a vendor that provides a meat substitute and your restaurant can offer it at a profitable price point, you're essentially ready to start serving. Assessing the local market for such an ingredient is one of the most important and potentially difficult concerns. Starting small, however, as well as ensuring there's proper promotion of this option, can help significantly.

Understanding important emerging trends and dishes in the culinary world is vital for a well-rounded and effective chef. Learn more about what we have to offer aspiring culinary professionals, and get in touch to start your path toward becoming a chef.