Joining The Booming Meatless Movement: What Food Has Protein Besides Meat And How To Serve It Right

Dining habits are changing. People are becoming increasingly aware of the health and environmental implications of the way they eat. Factors like animal welfare and environmental responsibility now come into play in daily consumer decision-making. And this is displayed front and center in surveys and research. Statistics from SPINS Natural and Specialty Channel Data show that meat alternative sales have jumped by 37% from 2017 to 2019.

So as the once-niche, vegetarian and vegan-focused industry crosses into the mainstream to embrace the larger consumer base, alternatives to meat have become necessary as opposed to optional.

Naturally, with the changing foodservice landscape and the growing appetite for alternative protein sources begs the questions: “What foods contain protein besides meat? And how can you serve it at your restaurant?”

What Food Has Protein Besides Meat

Meatless opportunities and challenges

Let’s get to the meat of the subject. While going meatless opens up a world of opportunities for operators and chefs to develop a more profitable and creative menu, it certainly introduces a new set of challenges too. One of them is protein completeness.

Not all protein sources are made equal, which is why there are “complete” and “incomplete” proteins. What makes an ingredient “complete” anyway? This comes down to its amino composition, which is the number one indicator of the quality of the protein source. The best kind of protein has all nine essential amino acids.

Complete proteins like chicken, pork, and meat are just chock-full of it, but there are “complete proteins” outside of the realm of meats with the same protein contents.

Eggs and dairy, perfect for vegetarians

What Food Has Protein Besides Meat

What food has protein besides meat? Your mind probably jumped to eggs, and you’re right. Deemed as one of the healthiest foods in the world, eggs are basically considered the perfect protein, and at just 70 calories, it’s the best non-meat protein source you can find. And they’re great because they provide you with so much leeway in terms of preparation and serving, making them easy to integrate into your current menu and an excellent choice for vegetarians.

Going meatless also means embracing dairy, so you should consider working items like cottage cheese, yogurt, and low-fat cow’s milk into your menu to give customers their non-meat protein fix. 

Plants for vegans

Dairy proteins present a great solution for meeting the fundamental requirements of vegetarian diets including reduced risks of protein malnutrition. However, it is not so clear-cut for vegan diet, which solely relies on plant-based food items.

While you may think that this may back you into a corner, thankfully, you’ll be surprised at the smorgasbord of ingredients at your disposal: nuts, seeds, tofu, chickpeas and lentils, tempeh, and nutritional yeast--there’s a sea of ingredients to choose from! The challenge is providing variety and creativity to develop smart combinations of protein plant sources to fully satisfy the body’s amino acid needs.

Quinoa is a complete protein loaded with all nine amino acids, and a perfect alternative to grain or pasta. Flaxseeds, on the other hand, should do well in yogurt and smoothies. In the soy department, we have tempeh and tofu, both versatile and great substitutes for chicken.

And of course, you can’t go wrong with good old veggies. Greens are a great way to incorporate protein into your menu. Spinach and kale are just some of the best protein-packed greens that give you a lot to work with.

Striking the perfect balance between health and taste

While health benefits inform consumer decisions, taste remains drives the eating decisions. Mintel discovered in a 2018 survey that taste remains the most influential factor in dining choices, health benefits only being second. Another survey by Technomic has revealed that not many people are satisfied with the vegan and vegetarian selections available in restaurants today. This indicates that operators are struggling to reconcile the two. 

Replicating the meat experience

What Food Has Protein Besides Meat

Cooking “meat” with plants is no easy feat. There are extra factors at play here. One, and this is a biggie, is protein solubility, which influences the texture and flavor of the meal. For example, flexitarians are concerned primarily with losing meat on their dinner plates without missing the experience of eating it. However, they are also more inclined to eat protein from plants than animals.

This leads to a certain developmental dilemma. Due to the poor solubility of plant-based proteins, it is easy to end up with an off-putting product that’s nothing like the real thing. This is a non-problem in vegetarian food preparations because you can simply add in some form of dairy-based protein and you’re golden. For vegan versions, stabilizers and hydrocolloids are required to get that meat-like texture.

The bottom line is that if you want your meatless dishes to appeal to customers, you need to be able to find a way to offer a guilt-free, great-tasting meal. And in order to resonate with your target market, you need to use messaging that focuses on what matters most to them. 

You don’t have to beef up your kitchen to go meatless

If you’re concerned about having to add new equipment to accommodate a meatless menu, don’t be. You probably already have the tools sitting in your kitchen. For starters, your trusty commercial convection oven should be able to cook plant-based meats as well as it can cook meat products. You may have to adjust your recipes slightly to accommodate faster cooking, but other than that, it is a pretty solid piece of equipment to have in a meatless restaurant. 

And just like any other food products, your plant-based proteins should be refrigerated so they don’t spoil and go to waste. If you use a walk-in refrigerator or a walk-in cooler, you might have to add some shelving, containers, packagings, and new labels to organize your inventory. Plant-based meat can look a lot like real meat, so you don’t want your staff to mix them up.

And if there’s one addition to the kitchen that you might have to make, it will be a separate refrigerator that operates warmer than the standard refrigerator that’s ideal for preserving vegetables. This will be a useful kitchen modification if you plan to incorporate large amounts of it into your daily or weekly inventory. 

If you plan to add plant-based proteins to your beverage program as well, no major changes will be needed in the kitchen. From your blender to your commercial ice maker, you should already be well-equipped. If you happen to be looking for a new ice maker, consider a Manitowoc ice machine, which has a self-diagnostics feature for easy monitoring.

The challenge

While the plant-based meat category is still a fledgling one compared to its dairy counterpart, its growth is well on the horizon, and it’s a significant one to boot. We are at a phase rife with opportunity. As we put this industry under a microscope, we are able to identify what works and what doesn’t. Its current iteration has generated what would be deemed a rather limited selection and so there remains a wealth of opportunities to tap into and uncharted territories to explore beyond the beef and burger applications that are the most prominent at the moment.

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