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Embracing the Green Side: Navigating the Plant-Based Meat Revolution

From origins to Celebrity diets, unravelling the pros and cons of a sustainable culinary shift

11 Mar '24
6 min read


Last week, while grabbing lunch at our usual spot, I witnessed a sight that made me do a double take. My friend Somya, a self-proclaimed ’paneer for life’ vegetarian, was digging into a dish that looked almost like ... a chicken tikka masala! 

Vegan chicken tikka masala (Source: Vegan Recipe Club)

My jaw hit the table. "Did she finally cave in?" I thought, bewildered. 

Before I could voice my confusion, Somya already sensed it and explained, "You won't believe it. This isn't regular chicken tikka masala. It's a plant-based meat dish that tastes remarkably close to the real thing!"

As someone who has always been a devout non-vegetarian, the idea of plant-based alternatives confused me. The umami that meat brings to my meals, is challenging to duplicate with plant-based alternatives, in my opinion. 

Nonetheless, I was intrigued.

What are our favourite celebs eating?

Somya's plant-based chicken tikka masala wasn't the only thing that got my taste buds curious about meat alternatives. Lately, the nutritional benefits, the inhuman treatment of animals in factory farms and the fight against climate change are leading to a shift towards vegan and vegetarian lifestyles among Bollywood stars and Indian cricketers. In some cases, even make business decisions. 

Take the power couple, actress Anushka Sharma and cricketer Virat Kohli, who were known for following a meat-free diet, were so impressed by plant-based meat that they not only endorsed it but also invested in Blue Tribe Food in 2022. This home-grown plant-meat brand provides consumers with a straightforward transition from animal protein to plant-based, promoting clean eating and contributing to the well-being of the planet.

Source: Blue Tribe foods

In an Economic Times news feature, they emphasised their commitment to enjoy good food responsibly without leaving a huge carbon footprint. 

But there’s a health reason as well. 

Kohli's decision to become a vegetarian and adopt more cruelty-free options in his diet owing to a concerning health issue. In an interview with Kevin Pietersen, he revealed that he became a vegetarian after a health crisis during the Centurion Test in South Africa in 2018. 

In 2021 celebrity couple Genelia D’Souza and Ritesh Deshmukh have embraced the plant-based movement by actively launching their venture, Imagine Meats, in collaboration with The Good Food Institute and global ingredients manufacturer Archer Daniels Midland. The brand makes ready-to-prepare meals featuring seekh kebabs, keemas, biryanis, nuggets, and sausages. 

Genelia D’Souza and Ritesh Deshmukh promoting Imagine Meats (Source: LBB)

Another celebrity to turn to a plant-based diet is Alia Bhatt. The actress went vegan in 2020 and started her own sustainability-focused platform Coexist which focuses on increasing awareness about animal welfare, ethical consumption, and environmental preservation.

Many famous Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Vidyut Jammwal, John Abraham, Kartik Aaryan, Kangana Ranaut, and Sonam Kapoor have chosen to go vegetarian or vegan for reasons ranging from health to ethics. Whether it's for fitness or personal beliefs, these celebrities are encouraging their fans to consider a plant-based diet.

This newfound awareness has fueled my curiosity to delve deeper into the world of plant-based alternatives, trace its origin and evolution and understand its pros and cons. 

What is plant-based meat?

Plant-based meat refers to vegetarian alternatives designed to resemble or replicate traditional animal meat products while packing in nutrition like protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. While earlier options like seitan and tofu were used for this purpose, newer alternatives now emulate the appearance, flavour, and texture of meat, providing nutritious and delicious options.

It’s origin

In the 1300s, innovation in plant-based meat replacements other than typical tofu or tempeh emerged. Mock eel meat and mock sausage were produced in China. These are known as ‘Second-generation’ plant-based meat replacements. By the 1800s, similar items were common in several Asian countries, including Japan, Indonesia, and China.

Food technology and processing improved steadily in the early twentieth century. Fried textured vegetable protein (TVP) (a combination of soy protein and wheat gluten) improved the flavour and texture of plant-based meat products. More Westernised culinary products were also being developed in Asia, such as Ganmodoki, a deep-fried tofu patty burger that originated in Japan. 

Although ’second-generation’ plant-based meat alternatives arose in Buddhist monasteries, they were not consumed daily because they were deemed too extravagant.

What is plant-based meat composed of?

Some elements commonly seen in plant-based meats include:

  • Tofu and soy seitan or wheat gluten
  • Potato starch
  • Pea protein and lentils
  • Beans
  • Coconut oil
  • Seeds and nuts.
  • Vegetables

Different spice and condiment combinations improve the overall flavour profile of these products.

Source: AIChE

The Pros 

Powerhouse of Proteins

A significant concern for fitness enthusiasts engaged in physical activity is ensuring an adequate protein intake for muscle growth and repair. Opting for plant-based meats crafted from peas, soy, or mushrooms provides essential amino acids crucial for supporting muscle growth and repair.

Nutrient-Rich, Performance-Driven

While protein and iron are important, meeting fitness objectives necessitates a comprehensive approach that covers a wide range of nutrients. Many plant-based meats made out of soy and tofu contain vital vitamins and minerals, which promote general health. 

Environmentally conscious choice

Plant-based meat, like cultured meat and fermentation-derived products, benefits the environment, people, and animals. According to environmental impact studies, plant-based meat production requires 72-99 per cent less water and 47-99 per cent less land. Furthermore, it results in 51-91 per cent less water contamination and 30-90 per cent reduced greenhouse gas emissions. 

By switching to plant-based meat and other alternative proteins, we may use significantly fewer natural resources while allowing entire ecosystems—and the biodiversity they support—to heal, function, and thrive.

The Cons

The accessibility of a diverse array of delicious plant-based meat alternatives is on the rise, attracting not only dedicated vegetarians but also curious omnivores. While not an absolute substitute for traditional meat, these options offer a viable path towards reducing our environmental footprint while simultaneously exploring new culinary delights.

While staples like tofu, tempeh, and seitan have existed for centuries, recent advancements have unlocked the ability to replicate the sensory experience of familiar dishes like burgers and chicken nuggets using plant-based ingredients. This exciting field presents a treasure trove of research opportunities, opening doors for future advancements that can positively impact the food landscape.

Plant-based meats, with their nutritional prowess and eco-friendly footprint, are opening doors to a future where our choices not only satisfy cravings but contribute to a healthier planet. It's not just a plate of food; it's a mindful step towards a sustainable and delicious tomorrow.

Bon appétit!

Category : Food and Cooking


Written by Deepali Singh