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September 1, 2019

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Low calorie, low fat and very tasty

CHINA is joining the global revolution of alternative meat, starting from the lion’s head meatballs.

This September, the Taobao Maker Festival hosted by Alibaba from September 12 to 25 in Hangzhou will be selling what it claims to be the “first batch of made-in-China artificial meat” to the public.

In August, Alibaba hosted a tasting event in its canteen of substitute meat products which had been made into meatballs, noodle toppings, chicken rolls and burgers. The comments about the similarity to real meat noted slight differences in texture as it was not as chewy and dense as real meat, but the flavor was there.

People who tried the plant-based meat also commented that it was as delicious as real meat and even had the same feeling of little shreds of meat that get stuck between the teeth, that it’s the next level creation compared to traditional Chinese imitation meat dishes.

However, there are some people who voiced concern over substitute meat, mostly on the grounds of food safety and the number of additives used in the process to make plants meat-like. Depending on the way it’s cooked, plant-based meat can also pack high calories.

In the US, fast food franchises such as Burger King and Subway have added plant-based meat from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to their menus. KFC has also started to test plant-based fried chicken from Beyond Meat on August 27 at a single Atlanta restaurant.

There are two types of artificial meat, the plant-based meat created with proteins from soy and other plants, and the lab-grown, cell-based meat cultured from stem cells from living animals. The latter, also known as clean meat, is much more environmentally friendly compared to traditional livestock production, helps to fight climate change and even improves animal welfare.

In 2013, the first clean burger created by a team of Dutch scientists cost US$330,000, now it may be down to US$50, according to a BBC story about Bruce Friedrich’s TED Talk on April 15 in Vancouver, Canada. The story wrote that he thinks the public will get their first taste of cell-based meat in 2020 and pay a premium of around US$50.

“Convincing the world to eat less meat hasn’t worked. For 50 years, environmentalists, global health experts and animal activists have been begging the public to eat less meat, and yet per capita meat consumption is as high as it’s been in recorded history,” said Friedrich in his TED Talk.

For alternative meat, both plant-based and cell-based, the cost must be the same or less than conventional meat in order for people to really accept the products.

In China, entrepreneurs are now exploring and promoting plant-based meat after seeing its success in the US. The focus now is to produce meats that are as similar to the real thing as possible.

Plant-based minced pork can be used as a filling for dumplings and mooncakes. Chinese startup Starfield and a lab at Beijing Technology and Business University have also announced the production of vegan meat mooncakes that use plant-based protein.

China has a long history of vegan cuisine and imitation meat. They are consumed by the public on a daily basis and served in vegetarian restaurants such as Zaozishu.

Imitation meat was a style from the emperor’s court where royals were required to fast on certain days. Since most of them had the appetite for meat, court chefs created imitation meat dishes that uses wheat gluten, soy products and mushrooms to mimic the taste and smell of meat dishes.

But imitation meat products are still not as close as real meats. They are meant to share some degree of similarity with the corresponding real meat, but not the whole package. Most of the products were developed with culinary experience of ingredients, not science.

Like vegan abalone, a bouncy textured cold dish made with various types of plant protein including seaweed gel and konjac protein. It can imitate the texture of abalone property, but there’s a lack of flavor which is fixed with the pungent wasabi in the dressing.

A lot of the creations are also centered on specific dishes rather than the protein itself, like suji, vegan chicken, which cannot be stir-fried or braised to imitate real chicken dishes.

Sweet and sour short ribs is a popular dish in China, and there’s a vegan version that places finger-long sticks of lotus root between two pieces of wheat gluten, which is then dipped in a flour batter and fried in hot oil before being stirred in a wok with sweet and sour sauce (ketchup, soy sauce, salt and sugar). The wheat gluten here can present the meaty texture, while the lotus root imitates the cartilage.

Sautéed hairy crab meat and roe is an autumn favorite, and a meatless version of the dish uses potato, bamboo shoot, carrot, shitake mushroom and egg to create a similar form, color and taste as the real thing. Vinegar is the key in imitating the crab flavor, as the acidity blended with the sweetness from the carrot and sugar is quite close to the taste of dipping sweet crab meat in vinegar.

A common thought is that meat, especially red meat, is far less healthy than vegetables, and one of the biggest selling points of plant-based meat today is its low calorie, low fat and high protein features.

The plant-based meats are also free from crises such as African swine fever, bird flu and mad cow disease. Farmed animals are also fed massive doses of antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic resistance in people.

Nutrition wise, both meat and vegetables have their highlights. Plant-based meat allows people to use it the same way as real meat, so it doesn’t have to be deep-fried or cooked with a heavy sauce to imitate meat dishes.

Vegan eggs are also on the way — JUST Egg is a plant-based egg that scrambles and tastes like real eggs. It’s made with mung bean, onion, turmeric and carrot to create the taste, texture and smell of an egg.


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