In present times, we are witnessing a lot of work going in the direction of plant-based food, whether it is plant-based milk, plant-based egg or meat products. Plant-based food is gaining huge popularity and the market is developing fast. It could be due to several reasons being change in lifestyle, interest in alternative food sources and increasing awareness on sustainable food, especially proteins. Sustainability of food is playing a major role in this.
In 2010, the FAO defined sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to a healthy life for the present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.”
Plant-based diet is considered to be more sustainable in comparison to those of animal-based products, owing to the fact that they require lesser energy from fossil fuels, less land and less water to grow. Animal-based products additionally cause greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that livestock production is responsible for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, shift to plant-based food will definitely help. UCLA has claimed that 20 servings of vegetables have fewer emissions than just one serving of beef. With such vast differences in emissions, it is not surprising that many consumers are choosing a plant-based diet. As per another study, grazing animals require a huge amount of land which can be utilized for production of crops.
According to OneGreenPlanet, around 26% of the world’s land is dedicated to grazing livestock and around 33% is dedicated to growing feed for the livestock. They also predict that while one acre of land can produce 250 pounds of beef, this one acre could produce 50,000 pounds of carrots or 53,000 pounds of potatoes (1). Animal-based diet also causes deforestation as more grazing land is required. But there are some other studies that also suggest that plant-based diet cannot provide high amount of protein and one has to consume more plant-based food to get the same amount of protein. Other cons can be utilization of high amount of water, high carbon foot print and use of pesticides and fertilizers.
If we are mindful of consuming plant-based food, it can be beneficial to the planet. Keeping that in mind, some recent researches are being discussed here.
Plant-based milk is gaining huge popularity. The market for plant-based milk alternatives is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15 % from 2013 to 2018 (2) and is expected to reach a value of $14 billion. In western countries, the use of plant-based milk alternatives is well established not only as a beverage, but has been extensively utilized in recipes as an ingredient.
Plant-based milk provides advantage over the cow’s milk as its lactose free. It is preferred over by consumers who are lactose intolerant or are allergic to milk proteins, because of their common benefits of being lactose free, cholesterol free and low in calories.
To make a plant usually a legume, nut, seed, cereal or a pseudo-cereal is soaked in water with or without use of an enzyme and then extracted. Further addition of ingredient involves addition of a stabilizer, sugar and fat source, sometimes fortification with minerals and vitamins. There are five major categories based on the source of plant based ingredient used:
• Cereal based: Oat milk, Rice milk, Corn milk, Spelt milk.
• Legume based: Soy milk, Peanut milk, Lupin milk, Cowpea milk.
• Nut based: Almond milk, Coconut milk, Hazelnut milk, Pistachio milk, Walnut milk.
• Seed based: Sesame milk, Flax milk, Hemp milk, Sunflower milk.
• Pseudo-cereal based: Quinoa milk, Teff milk, Amaranth milk.
Out of these, soy milk was among the first plant-based milk. The other categories of milk that are receiving higher popularity are Oat milk and Almond milk. Major global companies that are actively engaged in the production of plant-based milk are Blue Diamond, NotCo, Oatly, Eden Foods, Pacific Foods, etc. In India, this market is growing and some of the well-known brands are Goodmylk and Nutriva.
Plant-based Meat Analogue
Plant-based meat analogue is another segment which is gaining popularity at a faster pace. One of the major reasons for its popularity among the consumers has been excessive consumption of animal-based meat might result in diet-related diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. On the other hand, the consumption of plant-based meat does not give rise to such diseases. Moreover, they aid in building better immunity. The nutritional benefits and safety of plant-based meats as compared to conventional meat are also some of the important factors that have helped turn the consumer attention towards the plant-based products. According to MarketsandMarkets, the Plant-based Meat Market is estimated to be valued at USD 4.3 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach USD 8.3 billion by 2025, recording a CAGR of 14.0% (4).
Plant-based meat products are quickly replacing conventionally processed meat products such as burgers, sausages and nuggets. Plant-based meat contains lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and calories as compared to animal-based meat. Additionally, they contain higher levels of micronutrients, such as zinc, iron and calcium.
A major challenge in the growth of plant-based meat market is its cost. It is uneconomical when compared to animal-based meat. This cost factor becomes extremely critical for a price sensitive country such as India. Companies are working towards reducing the prices, as the high prices of plant-based meat as compared to conventional meat can hinder the growth prospects of the otherwise booming plant-based industry. Other reasons for high costs of plant-based meat are trade barriers, disruptions in the supply of raw materials and inefficient distribution channels that have arisen due to COVID-19. The non-availability and high cost of raw materials, followed by high production costs are likely to act as major restraints for the growth of the plant-based meat market globally.
The process involves blending of plant-based protein isolates with additives like binders, emulsifiers and flavours/seasoning. Some examples of plant-based protein are soy protein, pea protein, wheat protein, etc.
Another major process is extrusion. The extrusion cooking process allows ingredients to be simultaneously mixed, kneaded and rapidly heated under pressure. Formulations with high protein content are being used to make extrudates having a meat-like texture. This gives an elastic meat like texture. Further, addition of flavours or seasoning can be done.
The major companies in this segment are Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, The Vegetarian Butcher, Gardein Protein International, Morningstar Farms, etc. Some leading Indian companies in this segment are Good Dot, Vezlay and Urban platter.
Plant-based egg is another product which is becoming popular in the recent times, but it is still at a very nascent stage. There are only few companies which have successfully created egg like texture. Normally it utilizes a plant-based protein source, mostly being mung dal protein isolate, apart from adding some additives such as emulsifiers, stabilizers and some flavouring/colour to give an egg like texture. A plant-based egg analog should form an opaque gel when it is heated at about 70⁰C to mimic the cooking properties of real egg, whereas a gelatin analog should form a clear gel when it is cooled below at about 35⁰C. Major companies into plant-based egg are JUST Egg and PlantMade.
In India, Kavya Dashora, a Professor working at Centre for Rural Development and Technology at IIT Delhi created a plant-based egg which is very much similar to a regular egg having the same taste, nutrition and texture. UNDP had presented her with an award for her contribution in this field.
Plant-based products are slowly expected to penetrate the market and improve their market share in the coming years. There are a lot of developments happening in this field, with its future looking promising in the days to come. Globally many companies are working towards using Recombinant DNA technology, fermentation and tissue culture to create milk and meat in lab. They have successfully created milk proteins and meat tissues in lab. This can also give competition to plant-based products. Currently, the time has arrived to note how the landscape of future food is set to undergo a phenomenal change in the coming years.
2. Markets and Markets (2013) Dairy alternative (beverage) market by type (Soy, almond, rice), formulation (plain, flavored, sweetened, unsweetened), channel (supermarket, health store, pharmacy, convenience store) & geography—global trends & forecast to 2018.
3. Swati Sethi, S.K. Tyagi, Rahul K. Anurag (2016)Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review J Food Sci Technol (September 2016) 53(9):3408–3423. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5069255/pdf/13197_2016_Article_2328.pdf
4. Plant-based Meat Market by Source (Soy, Wheat, Pea, & Other Sources), Product (Burger Patties, Strips & Nuggets, Sausages, Meatballs, & Other Products), Type (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish, & Other Types), Process, and Region – Global Forecast to 2025
About the Author:
Dr. Swati Shrivastava,
Head of Science and Technology,
FDL India Pvt. Ltd.
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