Plant-Based Meat: What It Is and What It’s Made Of

Monday, January 11, 2021

Typically made from soy, peas, wheat, or mushrooms, plant-based meat products look and taste similar to real meat, making them easy to substitute and integrate into favourite recipes. Using only plant-based ingredients, it’s possible to create the look, taste, texture, cooking properties, and even some of the key nutrients found in real meat.

Plant-based meat burger ingredients on a table banner

What is in plant-based meat?

Let's take a look at the main ingredients in plant-based meat alternatives.

Protein

The proteins in these foods may come from soya, peas, mushrooms, potatoes, fava beans, brown rice, or other sources.

Colouring

Natural pigments from vegetable extracts, spirulina, and malt mimic the red hues of beef and pork and brown when cooked.

Juiciness

Plant oils may be added for juicy texture, flavour, and the appearance of marbled fat.

Binders

Egg whites can be used in non-vegan foods, but methyl cellulose (made with vegetable fibre) is an effective binder for vegan options.

Nutrients

Some recipes contain vegetables, nuts, and seeds, along with the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre they provide. Others even have added nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc naturally found in animal food sources. 

Flavour

Yeast extract may be added to enhance the savory umami flavours.

Allergy alert - Some meat alternatives may contain food allergens, so be sure to check with guests before serving.

How to choose the best plant-based meat ingredients for your customers?

Now that you know what plant-based meat is made of, here are a few tips and chef’s secrets to make sure you choose the right products:

  • Choose products that don't contain artificial colours. Instead, pick products with pigments from vegetable extracts.
  • Try to provide a complete protein. Soy offers all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. Sources like pea can be combined with other protein sources to include all the essential amino acids.
  • Look for products made with 100% plant sources.

Answering the question ‘is plant-based meat healthy?’

Meatless proteins only recently came on the market, so you may need to take some extra steps, beyond clarifying what plant-based meat is made of, in order to help your staff and guests learn more about them. The following tips can help you introduce these in-demand foods to your restaurant, anticipate some of the questions you may hear, and serve them to your guests with confidence.

Here are a few different ways in which you may be prompted for an answer to the question ‘is plant-based meat healthy’:

I need my protein.

Many of these products contain sources of complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids in the adequate amounts1. For a high quality protein profile, pick products containing soy, or protein blends such as pea with brown rice or pea with wheat. Soya is a high quality plant protein which contributes to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass2

Some products specify that they don’t contain GMOs. What do they mean?

GMOs are usually the result of selecting a desirable gene from a microorganism and the placing it into a plant (like soybean, cotton or corn). The process has been widely used in global agriculture to improve crop yields by making them more resistant to insects, weeds and diseases. Regulatory agencies around the world including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have concluded that authorized Genetically Modified (GM) crops and food ingredients derived from them are safe for human consumption. However, their use remains controversial. That is why most meat alternatives specify that they don’t contain ingredients derived from GMO crops.

These foods are highly processed. How healthy can they be?

The term "processed foods" is usually negatively perceived. However, foods are processed for many reasons, including making raw ingredients safer, more palatable, and easier to digest. Food processing can also minimize food safety risks, reduce food waste, increase shelf-life, increase the bio-availability of nutrients in some products, and create flavours. 

Food processing, either conducted at home or in an industrial environment, may decrease the content of certain heat-sensitive vitamins. But the food industry minimizes these losses through controlled and often very fast processes and by restoring the original vitamin content after heat exposure.

Finally, processing can also increase the nutritional value of foods. For example, it enables us to eliminate anti-nutritional factors in pulses or to increase the digestibility of starch3. In the case of plant-based meat alternatives, processes are what allow us to achieve a highly palatable texture, flavour, and variety. Without advances in food technology, it wouldn’t be possible to provide a nutrient profile and experience so similar to meat.

Now that you know what plant-based meat is, what are the ingredients and how to answer your staff’s and customers’ health concerns, here is how to start effectively marketing your offering to vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians.

 

  1. Marsh, K. et al. Protein and Vegetarian Diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 2013
  2. BDA, 2017 https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/soya-foods.html 
  3. Nestlé: Processed and ultra-processed Food. 2020