Hybrid meats, including those that contain soy, may appeal to both flexitarians and meat eaters.
A recent New York Times article highlighted the high prevalence of vegetarianism in Brazil, a country known for its meat consumption. According to a recent survey, 14% of Brazilians report being vegetarian.
The observation above bodes well for the popularity of plant-based meats. The improved quality of plant-based meats, including those made using soy as a base, certainly makes it easier for people who choose to forgo meat and for the world population who may choose to reduce their reliance on animal protein, as some health authorities and organizations recommend.1 But using soy protein in combination with animal protein to create hybrid meats may be an even more effective approach.
A survey of more than 11,000 Americans found that 5 out of 6 people who became vegans or vegetarians eventually went back to eating meat. This finding suggests that the key to reducing global meat consumption is not by increasing the number of vegetarians or vegans, but by creating ways for non-vegetarians to eat less meat. Meatless Mondays and meatless days is one such approach,2,3 but hybrid meat products – the combinations of meat and plant protein, may be a better one because research has found that to create an effective dietary change, new practices should not diverge too much from consumers’ previous behavior.4
Hybrid meats are a good match for those adopting a flexitarian way of eating. A flexitarian is a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. A Dutch survey found that 77% of consumers considered themselves to be meat-reducers and not avoiders.5 Hicks et al.6 suggest, ‘‘it would be efficient and wise for the meat industry to build a strategy around the flexitarian demographic, to ensure their needs are met and to keep them consuming meat, rather than risk losing them to veganism.’’
Research published this year revealed that many consumers view hybrid meat products as healthier options with good texture that are easy to prepare. Furthermore, negative comments about hybrid meat products related to the poor sensory quality, not to the concept of hybridity itself.7
Evidence suggests if hybrid meat products do catch on, soy ingredients can contribute to their success. There has been a long history of using soy protein as an ingredient to improve the functional quality of ground beef.8 So, manufacturers have experience using these combinations. However, typically, when used in this fashion, only relatively small amounts of soy are added to meat. More informative, the results of a recent study found that consumer acceptability ratings were higher for hybrid meatballs containing 15% or 30% textured soy protein than they were for the control meatballs comprised of 100% beef.9
Finally, hybrid meat products will not be embraced by those individuals who are categorically opposed to eating animal products. For these folks there is an active and innovative plant-based meat market. However, many vegetarians have adopted their dietary pattern for health and environmental reasons.10 For this group of vegetarians, and for the much larger group of people who are simply looking to reduce their meat intake, but not to avoid meat entirely, hybrid meat products may have quite an appeal.
Author: Dr. Mark Messina – PhD in Nutrition, Executive Director, Soy Nutrition Institute. Expert in soyfoods and isoflavones.
- Willett W, Rockstrom J, Loken B, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. 2019;393:447-92.
- De Backer CJ, Hudders L. From meatless Mondays to meatless Sundays: motivations for meat reduction among vegetarians and semi-vegetarians who mildly or significantly reduce their meat intake. Ecol Food Nutr. 2014;53:639-57.
- de Boer J, Schosler H, Aiking H. “Meatless days” or “less but better”? Exploring strategies to adapt Western meat consumption to health and sustainability challenges. Appetite. 2014;76:120-8.
- Ryan RM, Deci EL. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol. 2000;55:68-78.
- Dagevos H, Voordouw J. Sustainability and meat consumption: is reduction realistic? Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy. 2013;9:60-9.
- Hicks TM, Knowles SO, Farouk MM. Global provisioning of red meat for flexitarian diets. Frontiers in nutrition. 2018;5:50.
- Grasso S, Jaworska S. Part meat and part plant: Are hybrid meat products fad or future? Foods. 2020;9.
- Thrane M, Paulsen PV, Orcutt MW, et al. Soy protein: Impacts, production, and applications. In: Nadathur SR, Wanasundara JPD, Scanlin L, eds. Sustainable Protein Sources. United Kingdom: Academic Press; 2017:23-46.
- Grasso S, Smith G, Bowers S, et al. Effect of texturised soy protein and yeast on the instrumental and sensory quality of hybrid beef meatballs. Journal of food science and technology. 2019;56:3126-35.
- Pribis P, Pencak RC, Grajales T. Beliefs and attitudes toward vegetarian lifestyle across generations. Nutrients. 2010;2:523-31.