Why did the chicken cross the road? A: To make room for the mock meat.
What is mock meat? Essentially, this is a substitute for meat made with ingredients such as soy, tofu and wheat gluten, which tries to replicate the taste, texture and appearance of real meats. The concept originated in China and has become popular in the West in the last five years, mostly as a health alternative.
However, mock meats have had a chequered history in India. When it was introduced at a popular Chinese restaurant in Mumbai, vegetarians wouldn’t touch it and non-vegetarians didn’t want it.
Yet, mock meats are slowly becoming popular, being introduced in restaurants and supermarkets, to give vegetarians more meal options and non-vegetarians a ‘healthy’ option to meats.
Flavours of home
Why is the concept taking off so slowly in India? "A meat supplement is a Western requirement," explains nutritionist Dr Anjali Mukherjee, adding, "We are primarily not a nation of meat eaters.
Here, a non-veg family eats meat only once or twice a week.” Though soy is a healthy option to meat, Mukherjee has a tough time cajoling patients to switch. A non-vegetarian may give up red meat for white, but is reluctant to try any other substitute.
That’s partly because the mock meats available are not matched to our tastes, say Yasmin and Harish Jadwani of Ahmisa Foods, who set up a mock meat plant in Delhi in 2009. “We are still working on customising that.”
“The base product is soy; it is the flavouring that varies. It all depends on the preparation,” says chef Anshul Sethi of Fortune Park LakeCity, a subsidiary of ITC, in Thane. Their restaurant offers mock chicken dishes.
Since the hotel is located in a vegetarian locality, the improvisation of keema matar, steaks, etc., has had takers who first try it at the buffet and come back for more.
“In India, people rarely consider the health aspect. Price is still the imperative. Mock meats are an addition to existing options, so it will take time to promote it as a health product,” says Yasmin.
It’s worth asking if vegetarians even want to try something that claims to replicate meat. “In India, the very term mock meat can be a turn off for vegetarians,” says Jimmy Wadhawal of The Taste, a gourmet shop in Delhi.
“While traditional mock meat includes fish, duck and pork, we are only experimenting with the chicken substitute.” Are mock meats really healthy? Not really, says nutritionist Rashmi Madholkar of Jupiter Hospitals. “The preservatives with added flavours and the extra salt will only cause further harm,” she says. “Patients with kidney problems and those advised against chicken and fish should not have preserved foods in any form.”
Dig into this
However, some versions of mock meats have found favour with consumers. While chicken sausages, ham and salami have been available for years, Mumbai’s Prabhat Poultry introduced chicken bacon in 2005, and it was an instant hit, says Sumit Mahatre of Prabhat Poultry.
The Barbeque Nation chain is now toying with the idea of introducing mock meats across its outlets, says Pankaj Jain, CEO of the western region. Mumbai’s Aromas of China chain too plans to introduce such meats.
However, Delhi has been more open to experimenting. Eateries like Country Inn, Café Brown Sugar and the Hog Dog chain feature the chicken variety of mock meat. “Taj Chandigarh also uses our products while Hyatt Mumbai is in the process of creating a menu,” says Gurpreet Singh, CEO of Big 5 Health foods, who are the sole distributors in India of the South African brand of mock meats called Frys.
Frys is also available at specialty food stores like Nature’s Basket in Mumbai. “Demand, however, is linked to awareness,” says Mohit Khattar, MD, Nature’s Basket. “The current market includes vegetarians and vegans looking to augment their diets with high protein substitutes as well as non-vegetarians seeking to reduce their meat consumption for health or ethical reasons.”
Surimi: A processed amalgamation of fish and flavourings used to make mock crab meat, shrimp, or lobster.
Wheat Glueten / Seitan: Made of protein components like gliadin and glutenin, it produces veg. sausages, burgers, nuggets, minced meat.
Tofu: The basis for meat replacements made from soya. Tofu contains all essential amino acids.
Soya meat: Produced from soya beans. Its protein content is over 50 per cent.
Tempeh: A traditional food from Indonesia made from fermented soya. It contains many B vitamins, has a high protein content and is very versatile.