There is no shortage in the multitude of dishes and cuisines spanning India’s considerable length and breadth, meeting all dietary requirements. Why then has there been a sudden influx of vegetable protein products into the Indian market in recent years?
According to the 2014 Baseline Sample Registration System survey, two-thirds of Indians are not vegetarians. However, the rate of consumption is low compared to the rest of the world; on average, Indians consume around five kilograms of meat per person per year, according to a 2019 report from Our World in Data. The majority of non-vegetarians also don’t eat meat every day, while a growing population of flexitarians are eating eggs, but not meat.
“Most Indians consume vegetarian meals on a daily basis, which means that there is not much protein intake in all age groups,” says dietitian Sowmya Bharani.
Indian Dietetics Association in 2018 said the country’s vegetarian diet is 84% protein deficient – a substantial figure. The Indian Council of Medical Research recommends 0.8 grams to 1 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, which most Indians do not encounter. Unlike in Western countries, where meat is the key ingredient on the plate, in India the emphasis is on carbohydrates such as roti and rice, while protein is pushed to the periphery.
“In recent years, the athlete population has increased in the country”, said Bharani. “Never before have we seen so many people enter sport as a profession or for fitness reasons.” The growing population of health-conscious individuals and the need to fill the shortage of protein-deficient meals has led to a demand for alternative high-protein food sources and simulated meat.
Where Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat made plant-based burger patties that can bleed like a moderately rare burger, Mumbai start-up Evo Foods has introduced a vegan egg that you can savor without cracking. It is basically an “egg bottle” made from chickpeas, mung (green gram) and peas, which Evo says contains no cholesterol, but has a higher protein content than it does. ‘a normal chicken egg.
A versatile substitute, it can be cooked as a frittata or omelet, integrated into fried rice and as a base for a quiche, and even enjoyed in scrambled form.
Evo plans to introduce the product to various restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru later this year, if the pandemic permits.
Several health and environmentally conscious club members also avoid broilers, much of which is pumped with hormones for a high growth rate and a quick slaughter time of around six weeks. Abhinav Sinha, vice president of GoodDot, notes: “Americans love meat in the form of meatballs or hamburger patties, which are made from ground meats. Plant-based alternatives also create these popular products in minced form, but Indians love their curries, tikkas, and kebabs, which cannot be made with minced meat. Our products are therefore in the form of pieces of vegetable meat, where obtaining the right texture is quite difficult. “
People have been tired of the paneer and are looking for variety
Jyotsna Pattabiraman, Founder and CEO of Growfit
GoodDotThe Bytz Vegetarian Signature mimics chunks of mutton and can be cooked in your favorite meat curry recipe or by mixing water with GoodDotCurry paste. Its Vegicken strips claim to replicate the texture of boneless chicken, Proteiz transforms into chili chicken or scrambled egg, and the Achari Tikka packet only needs heating. The Bytz is loaded with 24.5 g of protein, while Vegicken strips have 22.3g per 100g.
“Primarily, wheat, soy and pea proteins are used to make these products, and other ingredients such as quinoa, flax seeds, and chickpea flour are added depending on the desired texture,” explains Sinha, who has worked with a team of expert culinary, food technologists and biochemists to make these products for meat eaters and Indian vegetarians, including protein enthusiasts and fitness enthusiasts.
Healthy and inclusive food is also a priority for Growfit, a company in Bengaluru that provides foods high in fiber, protein and carbohydrate, in the keto sense, with the aim of meeting the needs of diabetics and people with PCOS, as well as those looking to stay in shape .
“Vegetarians don’t have a lot of protein options other than legumes, lentils and dairy,” says Jyotsna Pattabiraman, founder and CEO of Growfit. Once cooked, lentils lose their protein content to less than 10g per 100g. “People are tired of the paneer and are looking for variety,” says Pattabiraman. “While whey protein and pea protein can be eaten as a smoothie, there is a need for protein options in main meals. We tried the tofu, but people weren’t happy with its aftertaste. Growfit then decided to partner with the Bangalore nutrition start-up. Vegolution’s new kid in the neighborhood, Hello Tempayy.
As more Indians join the Conscious Eating Tribe by ditching white rice and sugar and embracing brown rice and jaggery, they continue to look for protein options that match Indian cuisine and are affordable. Tempeh, which is fermented soybeans with a natural prebiotic and intestinal starter culture, is one such option.
“It is comparable in price to a good quality paneer but, unlike paneer or tofu, the spice not only coats the tempeh but also penetrates the product,” says Siddharth Ramasubramanian, Founder and CEO by Vegolution.
Tempeh works well in Indian curry, Asian stir-fry, vada pav cutlet, and taco stuffing. You can chop, slice, scramble and cube tempeh, which is low in carbohydrates, high in fiber and loaded with protein (18g to 20g per 100g). “Enriched with vitamin B12 and iron, this three-ingredient product made from water, soybeans and a starter crop is very potent,” says Ramasubramanian.
With a low carbon footprint, these products are cruelty-free and rich in nutrients. Free from preservatives, monosodium glutamate, or additives, they cater to a wide range of people, from vegan fitness enthusiasts to a mother who edits her pantry for her child. All you need is an open mind and a place in the palate for new sources of protein.