If plant-based meat is the future, brace yourselves — hard times are coming

They say it’s the future. Meat that is not meat, made only with vegetables. No animals suffered or died to have this burger on the plate. The environment will also have, supposedly, thanked you. If there are only positives, how can you say no to the future?

It is under all this pressure that, on the supermarket shelves, a new choice for consumers is arriving: that of plant-based meat. It arrived as a revolutionary concept, a way to liven up the menu of vegans and vegetarians and to try to help convert so many carnivores crushed by the weight of guilt and reluctance to say goodbye to meat once and for all.

The most recent to reach national supermarkets is Future Farm, a Brazilian company that seeks to break the path already trodden by other companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger. The promise is similar: using “state-of-the-art technology to create plant-based meat with the same flavor, texture and succulence as animal-based meat.”

Let’s face it: it’s an ambitious promise, but if science is capable of stopping a pandemic with a vaccine in record time, who are we to doubt that it is also capable of replacing meat with plants, without us noticing it?
The brand, which began to be developed in 2019, took almost three years to reach us. It sells hamburgers but also minced meat, meatballs, fresh sausages and even pieces of chicken (which, you guessed it, is not chicken), all appealingly frozen and packaged.

Each of these products has a different composition, but essentially based on pea and chickpea protein, soy and, in the case of fake beef, a touch of beetroot in place of blood, to deceive the repentant carnivores. “No artificial flavors, no gluten and no genetically modified organisms”, they assure.

Well, we brought home two versions: the hamburgers or Future Burger; and the chicken or Future Cick’n. The first arrives in packs of two units weighing 230 grams, roughly 115 grams per hamburger. The second is a kind of chicken breast broken into pieces, also frozen, with a total of 160 grams.

If eyes eat, they must be properly blindfolded for this first stage of the process. The grayish and unappetizing tone of this “beef” does not bode well and the same can be said of the chicken.which appears to be the result of a space disaster with pre-packaged food for the inhabitants of the international space station.

We could risk cooking them without even looking at the instructions, but we put the arrogance aside and put all our trust in the technology, the chefs and the cooking schools that the brand guarantees have developed and tested the recipe. It’s all very simple: just season the hamburgers with our “favorite seasonings”, preheat a skillet over medium heat and, with a little oil, cook for four to five minutes on each side.

Behold, at the moment of the revelation, that is, the turn of the hamburger, skepticism begins to fade as soon as, from that miraculous contact between the “meat” and the oil fat, an apparent caramelization appears. The sickly gray tone gave way to a reddish and brownish tone, dotted with small charred spots and a caramelization that made Louis-Camille Maillard smile.

The protein reaction took place and this very distinctive and revealing moment promised an epic event. Does it really taste like meat? Five more minutes on the other side and it’s on to the plate, before giving the chicken its turn.

If the “meat” had been seasoned only with salt and pepper, as the rules dictate, the chicken was entitled to a little extra: the salt and pepper was added a little turmeric and paprika. After the oil has been poured, the skillet is heated and the small pieces are sautéed for five to six minutes. All accompanied by a healthy dose of rice, fried egg and a couple of new onions in the oven.

So far, so good.

The first question: just like beef hamburgers, will it be possible to pass more or less this fake meat? The finger and resistance test, the old no-thermometer trick to check the point, didn’t seem to be very reliable. The first cut showed some knife resistance and the inside resembled a well-done hamburger.

It’s a fact: in the game of similarities, anyone who doesn’t know that this is the latest in the range of fake meats could very well be deceived. But the ability to camouflage ends when the taste buds kick in. — a problem, shall we say, particularly serious, when the subject is food that must, for all intents and purposes, be digested.

The cardboard flavor is, unfortunately, the fulfillment of all the prejudices that any carnivore gathers from the start when faced with this type of product. Grey, banal, with a dry texture that perhaps only pleases heretics who prefer “the meat very well done”.

Perhaps there is a way to disguise this problem: properly wrapped in pickles, cheese, ketchup and bread. This may be the only way to hide the poor taste of this meat. Visually? impeccable. At the taste level? A disaster.

Then it was the chicken’s turn. If we ignore the fact that it looks like a broken chest from the start, the touch promises. The meat gained color and an apparent crispness on the outside. And indeed, the taste seems to be superior to that of the hamburger. But calm down.

There is a fateful moment that betrays us and everything happens very quickly at the moment of the first set. Having never tried it, he would say that the easiest way to describe the experience is to chew a chewing gum with a crunchy exterior. The inside of this chicken is rubbery, less resistant than you would expect. A closer look explains it all: instead of the fibers, the inside of each piece is a kind of wavy sheet of an apparently elastic layer. Everything we don’t want to find on the plate.

If it is true that the eyes ate well before giving way to the action of the papillae, it is also undeniable that the promise of replicating the “taste and texture of the meat” is clearly deceiving. Or rather: it will not be misleading for anyone who maintains a diet based on frozen products sold in large supermarkets.

These products may well be a healthier alternative for those who consume those deep-frozen foods that sacrifice taste and health for the sake of saving time. However, no connoisseur in their right mind will ever consider actively participating in this exchange.

It is equally bizarre that in this fight for health and the environment, people continue to insist on replicating the flavors of foods that, as we all know, we have to consume less and less. Why do vegans and vegetarians need substitutes for something they choose not to eat?

More: more and more chefs are practicing a cuisine based on vegetables, looking for the best ways to cook them, to serve them, to enhance the flavor that is so often ignored. On the plate I served these hamburgers on, were two simple and apparently simple new onions.

They were cultivated and harvested, sold at a relatively cheap price. A drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and half an hour in the oven was all it took to make them an absolutely delicious snack. Next to it, a pair of hamburgers sold at more than 20 euros per kilo (the 230 gram package costs €4.99) with an absolutely disappointing high-tech flavor. I think as for the future, we are talking.

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