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Beyond meat substitutes: What’s hot in vegetarian food?

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

30-Jan-2014
Last updated on 30-Jan-2014 at 16:09 GMT

Beyond meat substitutes: What’s hot in vegetarian food?

Vegetarians aren’t necessarily looking for alternative proteins or meat analogues, and makers of meat-free meals are embracing a range of trendy flavours and ingredients, says Classic Cuisine’s new product development manager Paul Hunt.

UK-based Classic Cuisine is a frozen ready meals company that supplies caterers as well as supermarkets. It predicts that sales of vegetarian foods will increase 10% by 2016, and has been working to develop distinctive products that reflect vegetarian ingredient trends.

Hunt told FoodNavigator that chilli is still common in vegetarian foods, but its use has evolved from Indian-style curries to dishes with less-hot spice, like tagines, and foods from the US Deep South, like gumbo and jerk seasonings.

“Vegetarians, while they like to be healthy, they want food to be satisfying too,” he said. “The meals we are producing are all about decadence. …You have to think about vegetarian food.”

He said the company takes a keen interest in the latest ingredient trends, including incorporating superfoods into its products, such as quinoa or cranberries in pastry to add nutrition, flavour and texture.

“We are using things like couscous, and polenta is a growing ingredient for us,” he said.

Its polenta pastry is wheat-free, and the company also uses gluten-free flour and produces gluten-free sponges for its desserts. However, it doesn’t claim that any of these products are gluten-free.

“To label vegetarian food as vegetarian food already limits the market,” he said, adding that taste was the primary factor in the development of all its vegetarian foods.

What about vegetarian proteins?

Hunt said that the company tended to look at protein-rich grains and dairy products to provide protein in its vegetarian meals.

“We use rices; we use sweet potatoes; and also things like couscous. We don’t use things like tofu or anything like that,” he said. “We do use lentils as a garnish to the dish; it’s a good bulker. Pulses are trendy…They play well and of course it’s healthy and filling.”

Cheese is an important ingredient for a lot of vegetarian meals, said Hunt, and the company has an eye on the nutrition panel, using half fat cheeses rather than full fat. He said this is useful because it immediately cuts the calories drastically.

He acknowledges that meat alternatives like Quorn have made some headway in the vegetarian market, and there is now a range of vegetarian proteins that mimic meat in terms of shape. However, Hunt said: “People want something a bit more imaginative.”

As for up-and-coming vegetarian food trends, he predicts colourful, flavourful foods, with increased influence from Morocco, Turkey and North Africa – and street food, including noodles, wraps and Moroccan spices.

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