The science behind the plant-based meat revolution

One of the main reasons the average British man and woman fail to reach their recommended dietary intake of protein is that they eat too much meat, rather than too little. Few new proteins…

One of the main reasons the average British man and woman fail to reach their recommended dietary intake of protein is that they eat too much meat, rather than too little. Few new proteins are emerging to challenge the high fat, high-calorie status quo and many people are opting to stick with what’s tried and tested. Others, however, are attempting to find alternatives to conventional protein.

Some of the sources of plant-based protein revolve around the earthworms, which have long played a key role in developing food crops. Now, plants have begun to recognize this source of protein and are increasingly incorporating plants’ own extracellular cellulose into their fibre structure, or by having the cellulose integrate into plant fibers.

The result: a plant-based meat. Not that the protein literally isn’t tasty; it’s thick, chewy and will continue to put a smile on your face for a long time. The best meat substitutes are clearly made from plant-based muscle, and the new breed of protein-rich substitutes are far more flavorful than alternatives that were created via lab-grown sheep or cow muscle.

As a result, it’s easier for consumers to make a case for eschewing animal protein and seeking out meat-free foods, particularly when shopping for dinner. In fact, UK food market researcher Mintel says that consumer preference is shifting from meat-based products to foods containing plant-based protein.

The dairy industry agrees. The dairy group has added a new section to its website for fans of plant-based protein. The section has gotten the attention of the dairy industry, though not all of it. The current business “standards” of the UK’s dairy industry do not permit dairy in some of the new protein dishes.

Research suggests that animal-based protein is quickly losing ground to plant-based alternatives, but the dairy industry feels that when it comes to plant-based protein, the issue is being used as a scare tactic by some suppliers. According to Scotland’s economy secretary Keith Brown, the new range of plant-based products that contain dairy does not pose any health risks. He also claims that the introduction of plant-based products with milk “does not mean any ‘breakthrough’.”

Brown notes that plant-based milk has been available for some time now in the UK and that the final products used by meat industry giants such as Tesco have contained cheese and dairy traces, making it clear that these “new” products are not an evolution from the current milk option.

“Having said that, we have to admit we have our work cut out as far as ensuring a balanced diet goes; one which includes all sorts of sources of protein,” he says. “It is vitally important, for example, that children, and all of us, get our ‘five a day’ – not the equivalent of two pieces of 8oz chocolate cake but the six servings we are supposed to eat every day.”

Regardless of who is correct on this issue, who’s right won’t change consumer appetites. Consumers continue to report buying the plant-based alternatives because they taste better.

Violet Joubert, aged 11, has been eating plant-based protein in the UK for a decade. She says that she makes sure she has plant-based meals rather than meat to eat for lunch and dinner, and that often she eats a lot of meat substitutes, but without meat.

She says: “Even before I could talk, I knew I was going to like what I was eating. I’m the same age as many of my friends and we all loved meat. It was something we would have for lunch and dinner, like as an experience at some holiday camp.”

Speaking on Instagram, Alana Ehrmann, 18, added: “I definitely prefer plant-based to traditional proteins as they are healthier and they’re really tasty!”

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