Mock meats are here, but how healthy are they really?
After making inroads even in meat-heavy fast food chains in the UK, US and parts of Europe, mock meats are turning up on supermarket shelves in India, on online portals, and at vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
Given that most vegetarians here have been vegetarian all their lives and are repulsed by meat, mock meats cater to a very specific demographic: the non-vegetarian who has turned vegetarian, whether for humanitarian or health reasons.
The good news is that the technology used to make fake meat has made rapid advances around the world, and so the products available today look, taste and feel significantly more like the real thing than, say, the soya nuggets of the ’90s that retained their spongy texture and flavour no matter what you did. The not-so-good news? Mock meat may not be all its cooked up to be.
HOW HEALTHY IS IT?
Most mock meats are plant-based products made using soya protein, wheat gluten or vegetable substitutes like jackfruit. The claim is that they are healthier as a result — offering more nutritive value, more fiber, lower fat content, and no animal fat (which means also no cholesterol).
“But 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.”
Given that these are processed foods, you should also look out for high sodium content, Dr Sharma adds. “Balance it out by reducing your daily consumption of salt, and you should be okay. Overall, be wary as with the consumption of any processed foods.”
Udaipur-based Good Dot’s Vegetarian Bytz brands makes strips of ‘boneless red meat’ that have a firm texture and are made from soya flour, pea protein, quinoa flour, rice flour and flaxseed powder. The strips are pitched as high in protein and dietary fiber. Good Dot also turns grain and plant proteins into a product they call Proteiz, which can be used as a dehydrated soy-based alternative to chicken and egg. These products need to be hydrated in boiling water before cooking. What you can make with Veg Bytz: Curries, Chinese stir-fries, wraps, kebabs and grills. What you can make with Proteiz: Bhurji, stir-fried ‘chicken’
Unived sells Vegan Meat made from jackfruit, which they package as a ready-to-eat alternative with a texture and look nearly identical to chicken. Pour the contents into a pan or microwavable dish, add 50ml of water, heat for a couple of minutes, and it’s ready. This fake meat is pitched as high in fibre. It comes seasoned, spiced and ready to eat and can be paired with chapatti, used in a sandwich or tossed into a salad.
SOYA ‘DUCK’ AND ‘FISH’
Veggie Champ, a plant-based meat brand by Ahimsa Food, sells mock duck, mock fish fillets and mock pepper salami that can be eaten grilled or sautéed. The products are made using soya, soya oil and soya protein, milk, wheat and wheat protein, and starch. Though high in fiber, some of these products do contain cholesterol from the milk. Also because of the milk, these products need to be frozen, and defrosted before use.
The restaurant House of Seitan in Bengaluru serves burgers, sandwiches, salads, biryanis and a number of other ‘mutton’, ‘beef’, ‘duck’ and ‘chicken’ dishes made with mock meat created using wheat gluten, chickpea flour and flaxseeds.