When we think of “plant-based meat,” we might envision a veggie burger filled with savory bits of black beans, crunchy bell peppers, and sweet corn. Something any vegetarian would relish. But plant-based meat has evolved since the early veggie burgers.
Today, with heightened awareness around leading a cruelty-free and environmentally friendly lifestyle, more meat eaters are turning to plant-based meat options. And today’s plant-based options have an authentic, delicious flavor that appeals to meat lovers. These products have become so popular that the plant-based meat market is valued at $13.6 billion in 2023 and is expected to hit $87.9 billion by 2032.
So why is there so much hype these days around plant-based meat? Better, yet — how do they make it resemble meat? Let’s dive in.
How Do They Make It Resemble Meat?
As the name suggests, plant-based meat comes from processing plant-based ingredients to mimic the taste, feel, and appearance of real meat, without a trace of animal products.
Years ago, it was common to only find plant-based meat in the form of a patty in the frozen section at the grocery store. Today, the options include nuggets, ground faux meat, sausages, and more.
The Step-by-Step Process
According to the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, the plant-based meat lifecycle follows these steps:
- Extract proteins from raw materials.
- Use heat through an “extrusion” process to structure/texturize the proteins. Sometimes shear cell process is employed, which is more energy efficient.
- Add additional coloring, flavor, and aroma agents.
- Treat the product for microbial contamination.
- Package and ship off to grocery stores.
When plant-based meat first gained popularity, the most common ingredients were a concoction of veggies, beans, and oats. But now companies like Impossible Foods are finding ways to be a bit more crafty and innovative when it comes to emulating the real stuff.
Soy protein concentrate and pea protein are common ingredients used to mimic the true taste and texture of real meat. Editor’s note: Some plant-based meat options, notably Impossible Foods products, contain GMO soy.
Other foundational elements might include legumes, tempeh, tofu, lentils, jackfruit, soy, chickpeas, quinoa, and of course, a colorful mix of veggies.
To enhance any sort of plant-based meat, rich spices and various plant oils are usually added to act as binding agents. These may include coconut, sunflower, or canola oils.
Ask any “meat-alternative” brand and they’ll say the number one goal is to capture the intoxicating umami flavor that meat yields. Frequently, natural flavorings, spices, and yeast extracts are sprinkled in that mimic the “real meat” flavor.
Now, when it comes to the widely popular Impossible Burger, its bold essence is really up-leveled by heme — an iron-containing molecule that “impossibly” mimics authentic beef. Aside from yeast extracts and heme, the flavors detectable in plant-based meat usually stem from the fat content in the oils, and of course, the seasoning blend.
Most faux meat fanatics are in awe of the texture because it truly imitates the tenderness of real meat. Usually, the texture is achieved through the extrusion process.
Some companies employ texturization technology, which adds more moisture during the extrusion process. The final result is something a bit stringy in texture.
By using just the right ingredients and texturing methods, plant-based meat visually looks like the real deal.
It’s also common to enhance the product’s appearance by pushing soft fats through an extruder. Or in the case of the Impossible Burger, heme triggers the familiar “bleeding” effect. Some brands use beet juice to give the meat a crimson-red appearance.
Why Should You Switch to Plant-Based Meat?
There are many reasons why plant-based meat is a better choice than animal-based options — even if you’re not a proclaimed vegan.
For one, plant-based meat is usually more nutrient-dense and doesn’t contain as much saturated fat as real meat. Many diners say they prefer the taste of plant-based meat, which is no surprise. These days, plant-based chefs and food researchers are practicing more progressive methods and techniques to make everyday plant-based recipes taste delicious.
One of the largest culinary schools in the U.S, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, offers plant-based degree and diploma programs. In these programs, students can discover how to modify traditional recipes with plant-based substitutions. Plus, they explore how these dishes directly affect global health and sustainability.
Did you know that approximately 15% of global greenhouse emissions derive from animal agriculture? Simply by switching to a plant-based diet, we can reduce our carbon footprint and help support global climate goals.
Plant-Based Meat Makes It Easy to Reduce Your Meat Consumption
People around the world practice “Meatless Mondays” for good reason. This once-weekly break from meat is an easy way to start reducing your consumption. If you’re not used to eating 100% plant-based food all of the time, consider trying a reducetarian diet — slowly cutting back on how much meat you eat. One way to do this is the meatless breakfast and lunch strategy. Switching to plant-based meat makes it even easier to skip the meat.
Regardless of your approach, plant-based meat is more accessible than ever. If you’re a regular meat eater, consider incorporating it into your diet. You’ll be making a more environmentally friendly choice and reducing your carbon footprint.
This article was contributed by the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, the #1 culinary school in the world according to Chef’s Pencil. The school offers a variety of culinary and pastry arts programs on campuses in Austin, TX, and Boulder, CO, as well as online. With over 150 professional Chef Instructors, students can explore a wide range of culinary specialties — focusing on classical cuisine, sustainability, and farm-to-table fare.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2022, and the market size data was updated in January 2024.