From jackfruit patties to soybean chops or 'vegetarian' chicken and fish " options for those seeking alternatives to meat are now a dime a dozen.
Termed 'mock meats', such food preparations are the preferred choices of a cross-section of people, ranging from newly turned vegetarians, to those forced to curtail their meat intake due to dietary restrictions.
In India, as per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, 70 to 80 percent citizens are meat-eaters. However, in the past few years, there has been a significant shift among the "health-conscious" middle class, and as a result, a bevy of start-ups that offer mock meat have emerged.
What is 'mock meat'? What are its benefits?
According to the director of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in India, Poorva Joshipura, mock meat "resembles the taste and texture of meat but is made from plants, and so, when vegan, are PETA approved. It allows people who like the taste of meat to enjoy it without contributing to animal slaughter and suffering," as reported by The Hindu. Joshipura believes that mock meat is the healthier alternative as it is usually cholesterol-free, just like any plant-based food item.
Mock meat also has low calorie levels and fat content, thus making it a good source of protein and fibre. Multiple studies have shown that replacing animal meat with plant-based or 'fake' meat alone can cut down the risk of heart-related diseases, blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes.
Dr Lakshita Jain, a certified clinical dietician, meat technologist, and founder of NUTR, says mock meat options are great for people who are advised to avoid or limit their red meat consumption. "Diabetes, cholesterol and hormonal imbalance and PCOS are few conditions where going meat-free can be beneficial," she told The Indian Express.
Are mock meats really healthy?
"As a culture, we are not big on eating red meat, so the lack of cholesterol is not as significant a plus as it may seem," says Dr Rekha Sharma, former chief dietician with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. "The concern should be the high soya content in certain fake meats, which would mean you're taking in phytoestrogen, which can affect hormone levels, especially in the very young," as reported by The Hindustan Times.
Dr Sharma says that since these are primarily processed foods, one should keep tabs on the sodium content in them. She advises balancing that high sodium intake by reducing the daily consumption of salt. This, she believes, should be kept in mind while consuming any processed food for that matter.
Mock meats in India: What does the food industry say?
"I feel the trend of serving mock meat is catching up, not as a substitute but rather a healthy alternative to meats as these products have almost similar nutritional value in terms of protein intake etc," says Anurag Mathur, Executive Chef, Jaypee Vasant Continental.
Simple plant-based products are used to substitute meat in popular dishes and make them fit for even the strictest vegetarians.
"For people who are turning vegetarian after years of gorging on meat, for people who don't eat meat due to ethical reasons but don't want to miss out on the experience and even for those who don't want to stand out in a crowd of non-vegetarians, mock meats are a godsend," says Mathur.
Products popularly used as mock meats include wheat gluten, tempeh, tofu etc, besides packaged substitutes of fried prawns.
"Tofu is used in abundance in our Chinese speciality restaurant Ano Tai in main course items and one of our highest-selling vegetarian burgers in our coffee shop Eggspectation uses a vegetarian patty made out of tofu," says Mathur.
Vegetarian prawns, lobsters and crabs are spotted on the menu of Chi Ni, the new mini restaurant at Dusit Devarana. "...We are using special mock meat or soya meat sourced from Malaysia. The menu has almost 70 percent vegetarian dishes. So you get to have veg fish, veg prawns, veg chicken. It's a 'fish' but purely vegetarian," says Nishant Choubey, the restaurant's chef.
Participating in a recent cooking demo organised at the Le Creuset art kitchen, the chef dished out self-designed recipes like 'crispy muri asupara maki roll with black kuru' and 'paneer stuffed with orange jam' " recipes he describes as 'new world cuisine.'
Quinoa, a Peruvian ingredient, is gaining popularity among health-conscious individuals, says Choubey who claims to have cooked for celebrities such as Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan.
Coconut, eggplant or mushrooms are other popular substitutes for meat. To cater to this newly emerging market, companies like Godrej Nature's Basket are stocking up an extensive range of mock meat. While the chicken products are largely soya-based and completely vegetarian, the crab and lobster alternatives are made with premium sear fish. They offer a large selection of Veg Chicken Burgers, Veg Chicken Strips, Veg Hot dogs, Veg Sausages, Veg Schnitzels, Veg Polony and even Veg Chicken Mince.
"The preparation that goes into mock meat recipes is similar to that of regular meat dishes. The difference being the meat is substituted with other ingredients like soya chunks, mushrooms, different types of lentils, bean paste, and various other fresh vegetables," says Chef Sukanta Das of Tamra by Shangri-La's Eros Hotel.
Das says this is a growing trend among consumers, as a majority of people have opted to turn vegetarian due to health and environmental reasons, which consequently has resulted in this becoming a major trend in the food industry.
"The demand for the same increases during festive seasons," says the chef, who rustles up an array of mock meat dishes " 'soya chap,' 'soya tangdi,' soya cutlets, and 'soya daliya ki seekh.' He further adds: "Veggie burgers are also popular and are made up of different beans and vegetables."
Chefs and home-based cooks are using coconut, eggplant or mushrooms as popular substitutes for meat. Ahimsa Food based in Delhi claims to be the first company that began manufacturing products that look and taste like meat but are a hundred percent vegetarian. The catalogue of their products includes Indian, continental, Latin American and Chinese with products like Fajita fillet, Szechwan morsels, king prawns, salami and sausages. "The aim is to have products that are healthy, environment and soul friendly. Most of our products are lacto-vegetarian though we are increasing the range of vegan products," says Yasmin Ahmad Jadwani, who founded the company.
Meanwhile, Chef Mathur of Jaypee hotels says, "Overall the trend of mock meats seems to catch up for coming years."
" With inputs from The Press Trust of India