Whether you’re an abolitionist vegan, or a person looking to make a shift from meat-based diets, is mock meat the answer to your problems?

“I turned vegetarian when I came to know that Shahid Kapoor didn’t eat meat. It’s been years now, so I don’t miss the taste as much as I used to, but I was quite surprised when I went to this restaurant and they began serving something they called “mock meat”. It turned out to be kathal (jackfruit) cooked in the style of a chicken curry. My mother has been making the same thing since I was a child, but I guess we have a name for it now,” says Victoria Chacko, a PR professional from Bengaluru. Mock meat has made inroads into the food industry in the West, and its popularity is tied to the rising trend of veganism. With increasing awareness about the damage that the meat industry does to our planet, even those who aren’t abolitionist vegans are looking to make a shift from a meatbased diet. While they don’t hold much sway among those who have been vegetarians all their life, they are popular alternatives to meat for those who have turned vegan or vegetarian, but still miss the feel of meat in their mouth.

“Jackfruit is incredibly versatile and high in fibre content. It has a unique, meat-like texture that comes apart in a similar fashion to pulled chicken when cooked. It makes for a guilt-free, vegan, and gluten-free alternative to meat, with restricted use of GMOs. It is also low in calories, fat and carbs, making it easily acceptable by all,” says Sairaj Dhond, Founder and CEO of Wakao Foods, a brand that recently launched its first sustainable food variant — the Jackfruit Meat. Prahlad Sukhtankar, restaurateur and owner of The Black Sheep Bistro in Goa, finds JackMeat a suitable alternative not only because it is an interesting additive to his menu, but also because he can market it well for his customers. “People are responding very positively to jackfruit. India has long had a history with jackfruit, which is native to Southern India. With its new claim to fame as a superfood high in fibre, protein, and almost every kind of vitamin, it’s a great start to reducing meat intake, and vegetarians love it too. It can take on strong flavours well and still hold its own, whether in a biryani or a pulav format or at a restaurant like ours where we serve it lightly spiced, atop a toasted banana plantain from our farm,” he says.

Mock Meat

Other popular meat substitutes in India include tempeh (made of fermented soya), seitan (made from wheat gluten), mushrooms, and of course, the humble soya chunks. However, what makes JackMeat stand out amongst these other meat analogues is that it enables chefs to create dishes that resemble shredded chicken and pulled pork. Chef Aarti Mehta, head of culinary at Elephant & Co. Gastropub in Pune, is currently working on a Jackfruit Gassi, a Mangalorean delicacy usually made with shrimp, chicken, or mutton, and served with rice or roti. The challenges of cooking a fruit as a meal are plenty, but the additional pressure of ensuring that it tastes as good as meat is massive. Mehta says that this requires immense technique, the kind of ability that her grandmothers had. “I believe JackMeat is a great option and a good substitute for meat as well as soya meat, which is also beautifully adapted by a lot of vegans. Bringing more variety to the table is absolutely a suitable alternative and also a challenge for chefs to get more creative,” Mehta says.

Besides its ability to taste like meat, chefs across the country also highlight the fact that meat analogues are much healthy alternatives — they are high in fibre, have lower fat content, and help in keeping the body’s cholesterol levels in check. Chef Karma Tenpa, Head Chef at Yazu: Pan Asian Supper Club in Mumbai, weighs in. “Asian cuisine has evolved a lot. We decide our menu keeping in mind that our customer base consists of both people who prefer vegetarian food, and those who consume non-vegetarian fare. For example, we do a black pepper mock duck and in dim sums, and JackMeat is added to enhance the taste. It definitely has been a great addition in our food journey,” says And how has the response been? Tenpa says it has been well received. “Our dishes work best when they are introduced with enhanced flavours. JackMeat has not only been popular amongst people who prefer veg food, but also people who prefer nonveg,” he adds.

Mock Meat

However, not everyone is gung-ho about this new trend. Celebrity dietician Shweta Shah, who tends to high-profile clients like Deepika Padukone and Gautam Gambhir, has some strong words to say about mock meat. “I feel it is irresponsible to assume that the new options are healthier than the older ones. The concern is the high soya content in certain fake meats, which means you’re taking in phytoestrogen, which can affect hormone levels, especially in the very young,” she says. “Another negative often attributed to meat alternatives is the high levels of sodium used to preserve the food and improve the taste, which can be damaging to your kidneys. Just because you are looking for vegan meat options doesn’t mean you have to stick with processed meat substitutes, though,” she opines.

To call mock meat a trend for 2021 is a little extreme, believes food blogger Kalyan Karmakar. especially since soya and kathal have been integral parts of Indian cuisine since time immemorial. Hence, those who dabble in food have known about meat substitutes for a while, but chefs consider it a trend only because its demand has risen in recent years. “Mock meat is a rage worldwide, and it’s indeed an emerging trend. It’s been here for a while but is still not that popular in India. A small percentage of Indian audiences do inquire about it, but I have realised a larger group is still sceptical about mock meat, and even unaware of the term,” says Chef Jatin Mallick, co-founder, Tres restaurants. “2020 brought dramatic changes in eating and living habits of people across the globe. Priorities have changed, the focus all over the world is on health and wellness. Veganism in its pure form and with the addition of mock meats is getting popular over the years, and I feel the trend will grow rapidly in the times to come,” agrees Chef Vineet Manocha, Vice President Culinary, Lite Bite Foods.