One idea exciting the people whose job it is to predict what we'll be eating in the future is alternative protein. That means meat substitutes; things that are meat-like but don't come from animals.

It's part of another trend: a desire to cut back on animal products. Demand for vegan and vegetarian recipes in Healthy Food Guide has significantly increased in the past two years; supermarket chains reported double-digit growth in vegetarian products last year.

Even if we're not switching to vegetarianism, many of us want to eat less meat. And it's here that food technology is focused. There's an explosion worldwide in products designed to replicate the taste and texture of meat, whether it's a juicy burger patty or a piece of chicken.

This is not new. Quorn, made from mycoprotein, a type of fungus, has been around for decades in the UK.


It was launched in New Zealand a few years back with products including mince, pieces and fillets. It's a bit like chicken, at least in texture.

Since the 70s we've had soy-based meat substitutes, including the mysterious TVP (textured vegetable protein) and soy sausages. It's fair to say these are quite un-meat-like, and have been the preserve of new vegetarians who desperately miss meat.

Now, though, we have the runaway success of Sunfed Meats.

Its "Chicken Free Chicken" product is made from pea protein and marketed as "clean lean plant protein".

The company can't produce enough to keep product on the shelf. They have plans for meat-free bacon and beef. Sunfed to me has a chicken-like texture and the flavour is not unlike chicken.

So are meat-free meats healthier?

Sunfed's product is made from yellow peas, which are high in fibre and potassium. The product contains other ingredients: water, rice bran oil, pea fibre, pumpkin powder, natural yeast extract and maize starch.

Sunfed claims its product has double the protein of chicken and triple the iron of beef. A chicken breast has 22g of protein per 100g and Sunfed has 36g; not quite double. Quorn contains less protein at 15g per 100g.

The iron claim is technically true. Lean beef contains around 2mg iron in 100g. Sunfed has 9mg. They are different kinds of iron, though. The haem iron in meat is more easily absorbed compared to iron from plants, of which we typically absorb less than 10 per cent. So that claim is a little disingenuous. Sunfed also has significantly more sodium (salt) than meat; something to watch.

If you're looking to eat less meat and this kind of product makes it easier, then why not? But I wonder also why we can't just eat less meat by enjoying naturally meat-free meals, rather than resorting to a faux-meat processed product.

There's a whole world of delicious, wholefood meat-free meals out there, tastier and healthier than something made with a meat facsimile. If we're really keen on being healthier, this is the real way of the future.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide