On the occasion of World Vegetarian Day we present to you a magical ingredient that may well prove to be the motivating factor for scores of people trying to give up meat
Vegetarian meat is an oxymoron, but indeed it does exist. Thanks to the efforts put in by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago to quip ethical ingredients, fake meat is more than just an odd figure of speech.
What is mock meat?
Chef Vicky Ratnani, head chef, Aurus, says, “Mock meats are imitations of real meat. They are suppose to taste and feel like the real thing.” They can be made of different ingredients such as tempeh, seitan, tofu, soy, etc.
Mock meats are often wheat- or soy-gluten based. “The gluten is responsible for lending mock meat a chewy texture that is missed by new vegetarians and vegans the most,” says Vaishali Honawar, owner of food blog www.holycowvegan.net.
Mock meat may have succeeded in imitating the real texture of meat, however the same cannot be said about its taste. Marilyn Fernandes, who once tried mock chilli tofu in Singapore, says, “I ordered chicken at a street stall. After sampling the dish, I realised that it was not real meat but tofu.” While she successfully managed to get deceived by the mock meat’s appearance, she did not let its artificial flavour fool her taste buds.
Honawar has a slightly different view of the situation. She says that it is pretty difficult to tell the difference if the dish is well made. In fact, Honawar adds, the neutral taste of mock meat makes it easier for cooks to give it the taste of real meat.
Unavailability marring popularity?
Mock meat has been around for ages, but not many people are aware of its presence. Some attribute this to lack of awareness among masses while some blame the availability of mock meat only at a few restaurants.
Fernandes says that the first and only time she heard of mock meat was when she was in Singapore. She was surprised to know that restaurants in Mumbai too serve mock meat.
Chef Irfan Pabaney, corporate chef, Hakkasan, Mumbai, says that the restaurant’s mock meat dishes are very popular among its well-travelled customers. He agrees that mock meat is more popular abroad. He adds that Hakkasan serves mock meat in India as it is a part of an international brand that is already known for serving mock meat. Chef Pabaney says that he doesn’t know of any other restaurants serving mock meat.
Bhuvaneshwari Gupta, nutritionist and campaign coordinator, PETA India, states that India was introduced to mock meat much later than other countries as it already has a rich variety of delicious vegan/vegetarian foods. However, she says that there are lot of groups such as Mumbai Vegans, Indian Vegan, etc working across the country trying to popularise meat. Honawar, who seems to echo Gupta’s views about India’s rich vegetarian fare, retorts that restaurants will soon start offering mock meats looking at the growing number of vegans in India.
Gurpreet Singh, CEO, Big 5 Health Food, is the sole distributor of Fry's products in India He says that the response to his products has been phenomenal. The products are not only sold at Godrej Nature’s Basket and HyperCITY outlets across the country but also supplied to restaurants, hotels, food chains, airlines, etc. After looking at the popularity of Fry’s among
customers, Singh has planned to come up with another similar product called One Earth.
The ethical choice
Gupta says that mock meats are better than the real thing because they do not cost a cow an arm or a chicken a leg. She adds that as more and more people are learning about chickens breaking their legs during transportation or fish suffering immensely after being pulled into an environment where they cannot breathe they are opting for mock meat.
“Mock meat is perfect for those who like the taste of meat but want nothing to do with animal cruelty,” says Gupta.
Singh bought the product to the country for ethical reasons more than commercial ones. The self-confessed vegetarian, who quit meat seven years ago, is trying to promote vegetarianism in India through this venture. Singh does not like to refer to as Fry’s as mock meat. He thinks the term might scare away vegetarians. He adds that products don’t really taste like meat but look and feel more like it. He prefers to think of them as healthy and tasty protein-based products for vegetarians.
To one’s surprise, Sreejith Mohan, head (Category), Godrej Nature’s Basket, that stocks ready-to-make mock meat products, informs, that mock meats are more popular with meat eaters.
He quips that the tasting sessions have definitely helped in creating more awareness. Ashutosh Chakradeo, head (Buying, Merchandising and Supply Chain), says that non-vegetarians buy these products during festivals such as Navratri or Shravan when they are fasting on meat.
Singh says that mock meats served at restaurants in the country may not be always be completely vegetarian. These mock meats, usually imported from Malaysia and China, may contain eggs. Unlike Fry’s that come in packaged boxes with proper certificates, these usually arrive in unlabelled boxes. He says that this makes it very difficult to know the authenticity of mock meat.
In the process of skipping meat, vegetarians may miss out on one important nutrient – protein. Chef Ratnani says that the amount of protein found in real meat is more than the amount of protein found in mock meat.
However, there are other substances that vegetarians may not miss as much. Honawar tells us that meat substitutes are healthier than real meat because they are vegetable-based, and therefore contain no cholesterol and lesser fat.