Specialty Food: Panelists Predict Improvements in Plant-Based Foods

Mark Hamstra

Jan 13, 2022

The plant-based foods category may be evolving in some new directions, according to culinary professionals on a virtual panel at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.

While advances in technology are leading to the creation of plant-based alternatives that mimic the taste and texture of real animal proteins, at the same time some leading chefs, such as Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, for example, are promoting the consumption of plant-based dishes without positioning them as meat substitutes.

“I think we are going to see more of the vegetable being fantastic, just because of what it is,” said Chris Posner, vice president of culinary innovation, The Seasoned Carte.

He said he expects that at the same time, restaurants will continue to find success with plant-based meat alternatives such as KFC’s new Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets and burger alternatives such as those from Beyond and Impossible Foods, for example.

The presentation was sponsored by Next Meats, a Japan-based maker of plant-based skirt steak and short rib meat alternatives whose products have recently become available in the U.S., both in select restaurants and in some retail locations, as well as online.

“I think that we are starting to see meat replacement 4.0,” said Posner, noting that the latest innovations in plant-based foods are improving even further upon the meat-like textures and flavors that Beyond and Impossible Foods ushered in.

While some of the plant-based meat alternatives have had to sacrifice some of their healthful properties in order to attain their meat-like texture and flavor, Posner said the next wave of products will seek to address some of these shortcomings. In addition, meat alternatives will leverage technologies such as fermentation to create meat replacements that replace whole-muscle cuts of meat.

“I think we are at the point now where we can do it, but scale is the problem, and cost is a bit of a problem,” he said. “I think the acceleration we have seen in the last five years has been amazing. I think in three years’ time, we will be there.”

Airis Johnson, a private chef, consultant and winner of the Food Networks’ Chopped competition, said one thing that concerns her about plant-based meat alternatives is that they don’t provide the same nutritional content as meat, even though they are being promoted as meat alternatives. In addition, replacing the animal protein in a fast-food menu item, such as a Burger King Impossible Whopper, might not actually provide a healthy alternative.

“Are they really trying to promote healthy living and clean eating?” she said.

Johnson said she’d like to see more plant-based products that could stand alone as the center-of-the-plate main attraction of the meal, however.

“A lot of times when I am creating a vegan or vegetarian menu, I feel like I am putting together a bunch of sides,” she said.

Panelists agreed that chefs and other culinary professionals like themselves should be promoting healthy diets, or at least diets that incorporate balance.

Jumoke Jackson, co-founder and executive chef of Everything Legendary, a maker of plant-based burgers, said balancing healthful and indulgent eating is an important aspect of being a chef. Plant-based eating can play a role in eating healthy, he noted, and will gain traction as it becomes a part of everyday conversation.

“As more and more people are talking about it, it will become more mainstream,” he said.

Younger consumers in particular are interested in the ingredients and nutritional value of their foods, Jackson said, and could help drive the adoption of plant-based meat alternatives in the coming years.

Johnson, meanwhile, said that as a chef and consultant she seeks to educate her clients and expand the range of foods that they eat, as well as teach different ways to prepare them, so that they can vary their diets and adopt healthier preparation methods. Educating consumers with straight talk about the value they can derive from eating plant-based foods will be key to their success, she said.

“People don’t want to be ‘sold to,’” she said, noting that celebrity endorsements are not enough. “People want to know why they should be eating it. They want to be a part of a healthy food movement.”

Keizo Shimamoto, who gained fame for the creation of the ramen burger — a burger sandwiched between discs of ramen noodles — said he has been on a mission to create healthier and more sustainable ramen dishes. A computer programmer turned ramen restaurateur, he recently opened the Ramen Shack in San Juan Capistrano, California.

He is one of the chefs who is incorporating Next Meats into his menu, using the faux meats as ingredients in his ramen bowls.

“In the ramen industry, it is very hard to find a good vegan product,” he said.

Shimamoto said he found the versatility of the Next Meats products appealing, and the company’s focus on sustainable sourcing also appeals to him as seeks to operate more sustainably. https://www.specialtyfood.com/news/article/panelists-predict-improvements-plant-based-foods/