Americans are well-versed in what it means to be a vegetarian or a vegan by now, but have you heard of flexitarians? A newer label in the food world, flexitarian simply means focusing more on plant proteins and other plant-based foods in your diet, while still consuming some meat. Essentially, it means choosing vegetarian or vegan dishes for more meals.
Maybe you’re simply making vegetables the focal point of your plate. More and more Americans are leaning into a flexitarian lifestyle, even if they don’t know there’s a word for it. These consumers just recognize the need for more vegetables and fruits in their diets and are incorporating produce as a focus in their meals. These diners might still enjoy eating meat, which makes them a big demographic for plant-based meat alternatives.
In the last year or so, it occurred to me that I probably do fall into the flexitarian category. I’m focusing more and more on my veggies during meals, often picking the vegetarian option at restaurants. And no one is more surprised than me!
I was a very picky kid, and most vegetables were on my “do not eat” list. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started eating salads.
Taking cooking classes in my twenties introduced me to lots of different kinds of vegetables and great ways to serve them. I still eat meat, but I recognize that adapting my eating habits to replace some meat with more vegetables is a good idea for my health. And it’s a good time to start, because restaurants are finding more and more ways to incorporate plant proteins to help meat-eaters get that umami taste they crave.
Since moving to Chicago, I’ve discovered the magic coming out of the Chicago Diner kitchens in the form of their vegan dishes with meat alternatives. Their Reuben sandwich using seitan can go up against a lot of corned beef Reubens.
Remember, many flexitarians might still enjoy eating meat, which makes them a big demographic for plant-based meat alternatives. That said, don’t discount vegans and vegetarians! They might have cut meat out of their diet entirely, but many vegans and vegetarians still crave the taste and texture of animal-based proteins.
That’s where Impossible Burger comes in.
Started in 2011, the company spent five years researching how to replicate not only the flavor of beef, but also the texture, aroma, and juiciness that comes with taking a big bite of a hamburger. Their finished recipe uses wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme to create what they think is an uncannily close alternative. Their products also use about 1/8th of the greenhouse gas emissions as beef production, which is a plus for environmentally conscious consumers.
Impossible Burger has quickly gained a name for itself by marketing to the hardcore beef lovers looking to cut meat from their diet and replace it with plant proteins. One of the struggles with many traditional meat alternatives is nailing that texture and moisture you want from really good ground beef. This year, White Castle has paired up with Impossible Burger to offer a meat alternative version of their iconic sliders. A major fast food chain teaming up with Impossible Burger is turning some heads and making meat-eaters pay attention.
I got to experience this so-called impossible meat during this year’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Thanks to the huge crowd surrounding it, I couldn’t even tell which booth was attracting attention, but I could smell the wafting aromas of seared meat… or at least I thought it was meat!
I was approached by a friendly server offering me a generously sized Impossible Burger meatball, complete with a little dab of white sauce. Well, if she had offered me the sample with no context, I would have thought it was just a very delicious “real” meatball. Even knowing upfront it was a meat alternative, my brain wasn’t convinced.
Neither were my eyes; before I finished it, I looked at the big bite I had taken to check out the inside of the meatball. It looked just like juicy, perfectly cooked ground beef!
They were also serving mini tacos and their signature burgers, but I couldn’t even get close to those trays because again, there were just so many people crowding the booth. The sheer amount of people around that booth said so much about the demand for this kind of product. I could hear self-proclaimed “Not Vegetarians” raving about the dishes as I moved on.
Of course, Impossible Burger isn’t the only horse in the flexitarian race, of course. For instance, Shake Shack has recently tested a bean-based veggie burger with vegan mustard on a gluten-free bun, and classics like tempeh, seitan, and jackfruit are certainly still favorites. For flexitarians wishing to satisfy their carnivorous side while still being about the veggies, it’s a good time to make plant proteins part of your diet.
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