Plant-based alternatives to meat are nothing new. For about 2,000 years, people have been searching for a way to recreate animal protein. They have come with both substitutes, i.e. products that are supposed to resemble meat as closely as possible, and replacements, i.e. ingredients that only replace the function of meat on the plate.
With trial-and-error attempts, food trends, religious movements and happy coincidences combined, nowadays we have a global market for vegan products worth more than 25 billion dollars. A large part of this is the market for plant-based meat, which has proven to be an excellent solution not only for vegans and vegetarians, but also for ordinary consumers.
As of 2020, plant-based meat represents about 0.25% of the meat market, but that is about to change. Lux Research predicts that by 2054, plant-based meat will account for one-third of the global meat market.
Appetite for plant-based meat: once out of necessity, today of curiosity
The first attempts at replacing animal protein were made in ancient China, where the now popular tofu was invented as early as 200 BC. In 1587, also in China, there was the first mention of yuba, the so-called "tofu skin". This was the first documented case of an attempt to actually substitute an animal product – in this case skin.
Plant-based substitutes arrived onto the consumer market scene around 2010, when startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods popularized their ready-made vegetarian nuggets and patties. Since then, both substitutes and replacements have started to become more popular.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global market exhibited an increase of 7.30% in 2020 compared to the average year-on-year growth during 2017-2019. The market is projected to grow from USD 5.37 billion in 2021 to USD 10.80 billion by 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 10.48% during the forecast period (2021-2028).
What are the plant-based protein substitutes?
Today, the choice of meat substitutes is enormous - from virtually flawless ones like Impossible Burgers to those made from just plants, like cauliflower wings. However, six products are the most popular choices. These are:
Tofu - made from soy milk curds, it is the most recognized and widely used meat substitute today. The best thing about tofu is that it is incredibly versatile and tastes good even when raw. Various versions of tofu are available in stores, all of them being high in protein and low in calories.
Seitan – one of the most commonly used meat substitutes. In the production process, starch is sluiced out of the flour, which deprives seitan of nutrients (it consists of almost 100% gluten). Its popularity is definitely due to its texture: fibrous and spongy, deceptively similar to meat.
Jackfruit – its content of vitamins, antioxidants and mineral salts makes jackfruit a great substitute for meat, especially pulled pork, which is why jackfruit is widely used in Mexican dishes.
Tempeh – fermented soybeans, usually formed into cubes resembling tofu. Originating in Indonesia, however, tempeh is a better alternative to tofu because of its high iron and magnesium content, as well as nutty and mushroomy flavor.
Yuba – a soy-based meat substitute made from curd that floats on the surface of boiled soy milk. Yuba is becoming increasingly popular, and it can be purchased dried straight from Asian producers. After softening in water it is usually fried, which gives it a characteristic crunchy texture.
Robi – the latest substitute for animal products, developed in the Czech Republic. It consists of wheat protein, but also beetroot, spices and natural colorings. Its advantage is that it is very simple to prepare. In stores you can find it in the form of ready to heat products.
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