Is The Faux Meat Phenomenon Going Well With Indian Restaurants?
Is The Faux Meat Phenomenon Going Well With Indian Restaurants?

Big restaurant brands continue to make headlines with products featuring prominent plant-based meat analogues, but experiments with whole vegetables and old-school patties hint that the industry’s approach to plant-based menu development is in flux.

The interest in meat alternatives is expanding globally, including in India, moving beyond traditional options like paneer, tofu, and soya chunks. Today's plant-based proteins, which are juicy and adept at absorbing flavors, are so convincing that they often lead diners to question their meat-free nature.

Tracing back to 1896, the concept of plant-based meat is not a novelty. It was popularized by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who introduced "nuttose," a commercially produced vegetarian "meat" made from peanuts. This innovation was followed by the introduction of lab-grown meat in 2013 and the rise of companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in 2009, bringing plant-based meat into the mainstream in Silicon Valley and beyond.

According to research, globally, the plant-based meat industry is projected to reach $35.4 billion by 2027. While in India, the market size is still small, it is growing steadily, especially in the urban cities. This can be seen in the increasing number of Indian plant-based companies like Veggie Champ making mock duck, vegan burger and kebabs; Vegeta Gold specialising in vegetarian meats like chicken, mutton, prawns, and even meat liver made out of soya, Good Dot has created a ‘vegicken’ and come February, a new brand called Vegolution that makes plant-based proteins using a “super bean” launches in Bengaluru.

Restaurant menus, too, are echoing this rising trend. Take for instance the Seeds of Life in Mumbai that serves a sandwich and wrap both stuffed using mock meats. In Pune, at The Real Green Cafe you can find spaghetti served with mock meatballs. The new Worli outlet of Bastian serves chunks of mock fish in their Sri Lankan curry, while at the Bandra one you can get your hands on “chicken” wings made of the same protein variety. Mock meat has been a permanent fixture across all Yauatchas and Hakkasans too.

The industry is exploring beyond soy-based products, with tempeh and innovative vegetable-based meat alternatives gaining popularity. Recent introductions include jackfruit "meat" and watermelon-based "tuna," demonstrating creative approaches to mimicking meat flavors and textures with vegetables.

Shalu Nijhwan, a whole plant-based nutritionist and chef, commented, “People are increasingly thinking of giving up meat and adopting plant-based alternatives because of the health benefits.” Chefs from luxury hotels are testing the waters to see if they can introduce permanent PBM menus. “It is not just vegans who ask for alternatives, but having heard of or looking at the tempting dishes made by international chefs on social media, many non-vegetarians are also looking for alternatives. We do host weeklong or day-long fests at times, to see if patrons would want to have a separate menu with PBM, and the result has been encouraging,” says Chef Ajjay Choudhary, who runs a gourmet kitchen in Pune.

Adding to this sentiment, Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO of Goa-based Wakao Foods, mentioned, "The buzz around PBM is such that eateries, gourmet hotels, and cafes are looking to introduce either separate menus with these products, or dishes and festival weeks comprising different cuisines that can use these alternatives." This reflects a broader acceptance and enthusiasm for plant-based alternatives across the hospitality industry.

The fascination with plant-based meat extends beyond vegetarians, with historical regional Indian cuisines using vegetarian ingredients to create meat-like textures. Gourmet kitchens and luxury hotels are experimenting with plant-based menus to cater to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians intrigued by these alternatives.

Recipes developed in royal kitchens for both vegetarian and meat-eating diners have inspired modern dishes that replicate meat textures with plant-based ingredients. This tradition continues with dishes like nadru ki chaamp and soya-based chaamps, which resemble their meat counterparts.

Despite the enthusiasm for plant-based dining, research into consumer purchasing behavior reveals a gap between stated preferences and actual buying decisions, underscoring the complex and evolving nature of consumer attitudes toward plant-based meat alternatives.

Innovation is key to the successful integration of faux meat into Indian menus. Beyond the usual suspects like burgers and nuggets, chefs are leveraging plant-based meats to reinvent traditional Indian dishes. This approach not only caters to the nostalgic palate of Indian diners but also introduces a novel culinary experience, blending traditional flavors with modern dietary trends.

Adopting faux meat is not without its challenges for Indian restaurants. Issues such as higher costs, sourcing quality plant-based ingredients, and overcoming diner skepticism have been noted. However, creative solutions such as local sourcing, menu pricing strategies, and customer education campaigns have helped overcome these hurdles. Collaborations with plant-based meat producers are also on the rise, ensuring a steady supply of high-quality ingredients.

Industry experts are optimistic about the future of faux meat in India's food scene. With advancements in technology enabling the creation of more realistic and varied plant-based meat options, the possibilities for creative menu innovation are broadening. Despite the optimism, it's still a long journey ahead for faux meat in India's food industry.

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