While some may view plant-based meat as a trendy new phenomenon, the reality is quite different. Plant-based meat has been around for centuries – and it’s only getting better with age. From ancient China’s soy-based meat substitutes to the latest offerings from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, plant-based meat has long been a staple for those who eschew traditional animal products or want a healthier alternative to traditional meat.

The idea of using plants to mimic the taste and texture of meat was first recorded in ancient China, where Buddhist monks created vegetarian dishes that resembled meat. To date, the majority of Buddhist monks follow the principles of ‘ahimsa’ (nonviolence), thus avoiding eating animal meat. China is also the birthplace of tofu – invented by the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 CE).

During the Medieval period in Europe, people turned to meat alternatives during Lent, a period that forbade the consumption of warm-blooded animals, eggs, and dairy products. To replace the taste and texture of meat, they often used a mix of chopped almonds and grapes as a substitute for mincemeat.

Fast forward to 1877, when the Kellogg brothers invented a plant-based meat product called “Protose.” This meat substitute was made from peanuts, wheat gluten, and a variety of other plant-based ingredients. While not comparable to today’s meatless products, it certainly laid the groundwork for future plant-based meat and was met with curiosity by all palates.

Plant-Based Meat: the Sizzling Rise of a Billion-Dollar Industry

In the years that followed, several other products hit the market, but several failed to gain mainstream acceptance. Some were too expensive, others didn’t taste quite right, and others were difficult to prepare. However, in the 21st century, the tide began to turn.

From the early 2000s, a slew of meatless meat companies emerged worldwide, including big names like Quorn, Gardein, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat. Even major meat producers like Tyson and Cargill jumped on board, developing their own plant-based meat lines. While there have been setbacks along the way, the growth of plant-based meat shows no signs of slowing down. The global market was valued at $5.3 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach a whopping $33.3 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 20.5% from 2022 to 2031. In Asia alone, the intellectual property for plant-based meat has grown more than three times over the last decade, jumping from 2,388 in 2012 to 7,126 in 2022 – meaning that a growing number of companies are developing new products to meet the rising demand.

As consumers become increasingly conscious of the impact their dietary choices have on the planet and their health, plant-based protein sources are becoming more popular than ever before. This trend is likely to continue, leading to an even greater variety of  options on supermarket shelves. As the demand for sustainable and humane protein sources grows, it’s clear that plant-based meat is a long-term solution for some of the most pressing issues affecting protein production.


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