Cover Nanka's jackfruit products

As meat analogues rise in popularity, we check in with these plant-based advocates on their thoughts on meat alternatives

More people are discovering the benefits of veganism and vegetarianism, particularly in this region. A 2020 Zion Market Research report indicates that in five years, the Asia Pacific region will hold the largest share of the global plant-based market due to the region’s familiarity with soy-based vegan proteins as well as rising environmental consciousness.

Transitioning to plant-based diets can be challenging in the early stages. It is perhaps for this reason that the market for mock meats, or meat analogues, are thriving.

See also: 4 Malaysian Vegans On the Benefits Of Plant-Based Diet

In the aisles of urban supermarkets, upmarket brands such as Beyond Meat, Vegie Delights, OmniMeat, Impossible Foods and Uncut are mushrooming; in mid-2020, Malaysian food tech firm Phuture Foods launched a vegan mince pork product, Phuture Mince, for Singaporean restaurants. The following year, Nestlé unveiled its first plant-based meals factory in Selangor for the Southeast Asian region.

Couple Aina Fazlin and Faisal Mansor are among many Malaysians who recently made a switch to a plant-based lifestyle. According to Aina, they started removing meat from their diet after their first-born child started having health issues.

“Back then, the choices available for meat alternatives were only the ‘mock meats’ that we could get from vegetarian outlets but we avoided eating those as it was still considered processed foods,” says Aina.

“About three to four years ago, we saw the market for meat alternatives growing here in Malaysia. Vegan items from other countries also started becoming more accessible and affordable. There were more choices of meat alternatives made from beans, lentils and mushrooms. So we started trying some of them.”

Aina believes her and her family’s health have improved since starting their plant-based lifestyle. She does not mind consuming meat analogues, as long as they are not highly processed and eaten in moderation.

Similar to Aina’s story, entrepreneur Ahmad Syafik Jaafar also adopted a plant-based diet out of concern for the health of his child. Three years ago, he discovered a method for effectively turning jackfruit into a meat analogue. This led him to found a company, Nanka.

Today, Nanka supplies to many local hotels, vegetarian cafes, restaurants and cloud kitchen vendors, among others. It is available in the form of burger patties, nuggets and meatballs.

“When we first started out with Nanka, many Malaysians were not very warm to the idea. Our first adopters were mostly vegan and vegetarian associations. We needed to do a lot more marketing and campaigns to introduce people to this idea of gradually phasing out animal products from their diet. I think more people are more used to ideas like this now, but we are still lagging behind in terms of lifestyle adoption when compared to other place in the region,” says Ahmad.

See also: 12 Instagram Accounts To Follow For The Best Vegan Recipes

Nutritionist Oo Yi Qian says the difference between mock and regular meat is that mock meat contains no cholesterol, slightly more fibre, and no undesirable substances such as meat-borne pathogens, nitrates, growth hormones, or antibiotics. As with all other foods, discretion is advised if choosing to consume them.

“Let’s say a restaurant or a home chef makes mock meats from whole, plant-based foods such as black beans, chickpeas, tempeh or tofu. With minimal salt, oil, and sugar, cooked without deep-frying, it can be part of a regular, healthy diet,” says Oo, who has a Master’s in human nutrition from the University of Bonn, Germany.

“If your mock meat is highly processed and high in sodium and oil, then it shouldn’t be eaten daily. People should definitely check the ingredient list and nutrition label of their products. A healthy diet should be based on the BMV principle—be balanced, moderate, and have variety. A healthy whole-food, plant-based plate should contain 25 per cent of whole grains, 25 per cent of plant protein, and 50 per cent of fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate nutrients from a variety of foods.”

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