Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trying meat-free ‘meat’

These days there are more and more meat-free products made from plants to replace meat in various recipes. There have always been vegetarian and vegan options, but now entrepreneurs are trying to make products that mimic meat for those of us who like and want meat—and also to make a change. Recently, we had the chance to try one of these new products, a meat-free substitute for beef mince (in the USA, known as “ground beef”).

The product, Funky Felds Minced (photo above) was introduced recently to Countdown, something I knew about because I’d seen a spot on TV where they made burgers out of the product and fed it to university-aged beef burger lovers. They loved them. For me, the useful thing was mainly finding out that a supermarket I often go to carried the product.

A couple weeks ago, I made a point of going to the Countdown I usually go, despite the gout attack I was still experiencing, so that I could buy this product. I even made an oblique reference to it: “The supermarket was as it always is, with some new things spotted…” I said.

The reason I was interested in this sort of product is mainly because my doctors wanted me to adopt, more or less, the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. That diet is primarily plant based, but does include meat. However, red meat is supposed to be only a few times per month (ideally, less), with fish and chicken instead of red meat.

We already ate a lot of chicken, but not that much fish because I’m not a huge fan (which is a pity when living in an island nation). But I have several dishes I make that include beef, usually as mince, rather than, say, steak or roast. I needed an alternative.

In July, I tried a lentil-based version of my standard Bolognese, and it was yummy. When I made it again a few weeks ago, it was cooked a little too long and the lentils were a bit too mushy for my liking. The dish was vegetarian, and would be vegan were it not for the cow-milk Parmesan cheese we grated on it.

So, I thought the meat-free mince would be worth a try. It definitely was.

The product looks like beef mince, which is more obvious when you look at the photo I took of the product when I removed the plastic (at right).

The label said to brown the mince first, then add it to the sauce. Normally, I make the sauce first, anyway, then add raw beef mince and let it cook in the sauce. This method was similar, apart from browning the mince first. However, that’s the way that many (most?) people start their pasta sauce, so for them it wouldn’t be any different.

As the mince browned, it didn’t smell like meat cooking (it didn’t smell like meat before cooking, either), and this makes sense, of course. The final result was that it looked like a meat Bolognese sauce, and it felt like it in the mouth—what foodies sometimes call, rather inelegantly, “mouth feel”. I’ve also heard it called “the meat experience”, which is a little nicer.

The flavour was really nice—somewhat different from ordinary meat sauce, but how different a given batch tastes would depend on the type of beef mince it’s being compared to. In any case, I liked it enough to make it again.

However, our next go was homemade burgers this past weekend. Nigel mixed them up, fried them like normal, and melted edam cheese on them (we use edam all the time because it’s lower in fat than most other soft cheeses and melts really well; we’re not looking at giving up dairy products at this point). They were VERY nice! We’ll definitely have them again, and we want to try making meatballs with the product, too.

The product is expensive, somewhere between premium beef mince and the expensive angus beef mince. So, it’s less expensive than the most expensive beef mince, but more expensive than what most people (including me) would normally buy.

The other downside of this particular product was that it’s made in Denmark, and I’d rather buy something made in New Zealand or even Australia, but there’s not yet a local alternative. Even so, it’s a good product that we definitely will buy again.

We’ve found cooking with this product to be easy, only slightly more fiddly than beef mince, but with a great taste. As a bonus (for me), because the product contains no meat, I can taste any sauce I make without waiting for the “meat” to heat through enough. That’s helpful when I want to check if I have enough herbs in it.

There’s also a New Zealand company, Sunfed, that makes a vegan substitute for chicken that we will try, too. The company plans on producing beef and pork replacements, too.

For me, this is about being able to continue having all the dishes I love without eating meat, and I’m doing it for health reasons. Having said that, however, cutting down on meat definitely fits my values, given how much food that people could eat ends up being fed to animals so we can later eat them. And that’s without even getting into all the water, petroleum, and land that it takes to raise animals for food rather than food crops.

Going into this experiment, I was hoping to make us a vegetarian dinner a couple times a month, but my new goal is to be able to do that a couple times a week. We’ll see where it goes.

But so far, we’ve found one excellent meat substitute that we really like, and that’s a good start. I can always use lentils in other dishes, after all.

This video from The Economist explains the benefits of people going vegan or, more reasonably, adopting a more plant-based diet, as we’re doing:

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No person, company, or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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