Traditionally meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese are the granted go-to source for protein. Today, your diners are seeking out new dishes without protein-rich meats and dairy.
This means that we, as chefs, now need to get creative to be able to cater to their evolving nutritional needs. The good news is that plant-based, protein-packed plates brimming with flavour are easy to master and may improve your cost margins, too.
What is plant-based protein?
There’s no need to complicate the meaning behind plant-based protein. Just as we get protein from animal meat, protein can also be found in plants. Great examples of these are beans, legumes, nuts and seeds – which means that bean burgers, falafels, dhal and nut pastes can all take a spot on the menu.
In fact, beyond protein, many of these plants are also great sources of nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. For these reasons and more, diners are increasingly receptible to plant-based protein.
Given that the likelihood of plant-based protein and other food items will grow even more in 2022, these are 3 of the top plant-based protein trends that we expect to see for the year ahead:
Top 3 plant-based protein trends
1. Increased interest in functional fungi
With the ever-growing interest towards wellness and health, it’s no surprise that there seems to be demand for functional mushrooms, such as reishi, lion’s mane and cordyceps. Chefs in Chinese restaurants are likely familiar with some of these functional mushrooms, and with mushroom coffees, teas and tonics in trend, it’s time for chefs to cook up creative dishes using these functional fungi so that they can hop on the bandwagon.
2. Bringing plant-based to gourmet
Plant-based protein has become common in the fast food industry, given the popularity of plant-based meat burgers as well as tacos and kebabs. While plant-based has largely been limited to mid-price and fast food restaurant menus, high-end restaurants are starting to introduce plant-based protein into some of their dishes.
Globally, plant-based protein made its way to the Met gala with exclusive vegan food that was served. In Singapore, restaurants such as Restaurant JAG feature several plant-based dishes, with Restaurant JAG’s renowned 40 indigenous herbs that are selected and flown into Singapore.
3. Shift towards clean label plant-based meats
Along with the increase in concerns about health, more than one in three consumers take into consideration natural labels when shopping for their groceries, according to reports by the International Food Information Council. Among these shoppers, approximately half feel that it’s crucial to avoid products with chemical-sounding ingredients.
As such, plant-based food companies are likely to take into account this preference and search for ways to replace ingredients such as methylcellulose and titanium dioxide with better known ingredients, as well as more concise ingredient statements.
Considering local diner demand
Customers want to see more plant-based food options on your menus – and even though they might not know it, they need protein as part of that mix. In fact, over 46% of Singaporeans would adopt a plant-based diet due to general health concerns1. Another online survey found that 78% of Singaporean consumers are willing to try cell-based seafood options, with 45% citing sustainability as the primary motivation2.
This means it's time to start serving up nutritionally rich, flavourful meals! Using modern plant-based foods that look and taste like meat but aren’t – is one tried and tested way. Another is to build on the proteins in the foods we are already cooking with.
That being said, plant-based can be a confusing space for restaurant owners like yourself. The key is to understand their diets and make your menu appetising to this growing trend. Make no mistake — this goes beyond adding salads to your menu.
However, catering your menu to a plant-based diet isn’t as challenging as you think! Yes, you may lose some culinary weapons that give your food depth like butter, ghee, cream, and eggs; but this is an opportunity to rethink your approach to food and recreate your star dishes with plant-based substitutes.
Think further and there’s plenty more plant-based protein sources to be found in your kitchen.
Soy it up with soy meat nutrition
Soy comes is all shapes and forms. A Japanese cuisine favourite, Edamame beans are prepared by steaming or boiling immature soybeans and make a simple, salty no-fuss appetizer. Soybean milk and yogurt are an excellent substitute for dairy, and soy pastes like miso add a rich, umami flavour to soups and stews.
You can also make soy the hero ingredient of your entree when used as tofu or tempeh. An advantage of firm soy products – perfect for curries and stir fries – is that they absorb the flavours added, giving you the opportunity to maximize taste.
Many dark, leafy greens contain protein. These can be creative side dishes in their own right! Make crunchy kale crisps, broccoli tempura with dipping sauce, or a stir-fried Chinese cabbage side. These greens are also tasty chopped up small in soups and risottos. A protein win-win, it’s yet another way to add stealth health to your menus.
Consider the variety of bread available
A simple bread trade-up can be a way to increase the protein quota of your lunch menu. Sourdough, for example, is higher in protein than white bread. Quinoa bread is a low starch, high protein alternative to traditional bread, and will appeal to your gluten-free diners too.
Oats provide higher-quality protein
Although not considered a complete protein, oats contain higher-quality protein than rice and grains, are rich in fibre and are super versatile. Add them to veggie burger patties, use as a coating mix for your fried items, or blend into a flour substitute that can be used in quiches and pancakes.
Aquafaba — don’t let it go to waste!
Chickpeas are no stranger to us in our region and you are probably already using canned chickpeas in your kitchen. It’s time to reap the benefits. Aquafaba is the water you drain from the can of beans. Instead of pouring it down the drain, use it for emulsifying, foaming, binding and thickening.
Composed of carbohydrates, proteins and other soluble plant solids that have migrated from the seeds to the water during the cooking process, aquafaba is the perfect vegan thickener, and often used as an egg substitute!
Try whipping it up into a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate and avocado vegan mousse for a show-stopper dessert.
Recipes with plant-based protein for you to try
If you need some inspiration, try these recipes before tweaking them to suit your own cooking style:
- Cauliflower risotto with parsley and morel mushrooms
- Assorted crispy mushroom with Thai chilli tamarind dipping sauce
- Mushroom cappucino
- Asparagus à la Flamande
- Vermicelli Pancake with Luffa, Beancurd, Bamboo Pith & Shiitake Mushroom
Additionally, consider The Vegetarian Butcher’s offerings if you’re looking for plant-based proteins that are an alternative of your typical meats!