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Plant-based meat items amid Covid-19 pandemic
Tuesday, 12 May, 2020, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Tahir Sufi
The consumption of meat has increased over the decades. The increase in meat consumption correlates with the rising incomes around the world and rising population to feed. The highest use of meat is taking place in USA, Australia and Argentina, where meat consumption ranges between 80 and 100 kg per person per year.

In comparison, the consumption of meat in India is least- 4 kg per person per year. However, in spite of several nutritional benefits of meat consumption- there has always been several risk factors associated with its consumption. Such risks only double up amongst the current crisis when Covid 19 has created havoc around the world.

Despite assurances by the health authorities that Covid-19 is not linked to consumption of non-vegetarian foods  PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) has warned that the condition in which animals breed and are transported - the risk of transmission of such diseases cannot be ignored. According to PETA, pathogens flourish in such circumstances, and crowded farms can pose a health risk on account of being breeding grounds of viruses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (USA), 75 per cent of recently emerging infectious diseases originated from animals - a recent example is of swine flu.
The growing awareness about the risks of meat consumption has led to the popularity of plant-based meats in the fast food industry in around the world. In USA, which is a global leader of such products, most of the innovation in developing the plant based meat products has taken place there.
US based companies like Impossible Foods” and “Beyond Meat claim to be at the forefront of developing the scientifically engineered food by bringing the plant-based closer to the taste, aroma and texture of real meat. The company has pioneered in finding the unique substitutes for complex products like “steak aroma” due to drizzling fat in "Parsley"- which acts as a perfect substitute.
For colour, the lab uses deep red colour from beetroot powder for natural appearance—ingredients like coconut oil and potato starch improve texture of such products. Considering the mammoth challenge of providing the alternative of meat products,-the company brings together the great scientists, best engineers and the best managers in the world who have single mission-building meat directly from plants that are as close to nature. The CEO of the company Ethan Brown believes that the company shall "reset human history where we no longer need to use the animal to grow a piece of meat." 

In India also, which is home to millions of vegetarian consumers- plant-based meat alternatives are increasingly becoming popular among all age groups. The common reasons for all consumers for interest in such products include health and environment. The growing movement towards vegetarianism helps these foods getting more acceptable in our society. The catering industry has successfully experimented with these foods by introducing such items in the student messes, marriages, corporate events and other social functions.

Considering the growing appetite for such foods and taking the products to the next level of quality and variety, several companies are working on bringing innovative products in Indian culinary market. Numerous companies have entered the Indian market and are making waves in the vegetarian culinary market with their innovative products.

New Delhi-based company “Ahimsa Foods” offers products like hot dogs, vegetable salamis, Nawabi Kebab and vegan burger. The company has pioneered by introducing “mock duck, “mock fish,” “mock mutton” and it is planning to release vegan chicken soon. Another company by the name of “Good Dot” has successfully crafted numerous products like “biryani,” “pulao,” “Thai green curry-based products,” achari tikka and so on. The company has won multiple awards for its products. 

Apart from the industry, the country's leading academic Institutions also are at the forefront of developing such plant-based innovative products.  Because India is a host to the most significant number of vegetarians' in the world and there is an unending appetite to vegetarian alternatives- there is a vast ecosystem for research and development for such products in our research institutes. Recently, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, developed a plant-based 'egg,' and it is expected that the institute shall launch sausages, beef, mutton, chicken, turkey from plant produce.

Similarly, the institute faculty Kavya Dashora developed a vegetarian egg made of moong (split green gram) that was displayed during the Institute Industry Day. Even though the industry is at the nascent stage, the food industry and the leading academic institutions are continuously innovating the food industry in India- especially the plant-based foods. In such a favourable scenario, it is expected that within the next few years- the industry shall develop more product range that shall resemble the taste, appearance and texture of existing meat products closely. 

(The author  is professor & dy director, Amity School of Hospitality,  Amity University Uttar Pradesh. He can be reached at tsufi@amity.edu)
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