If it's true that you eat with your eyes, then meat substitutes may be in for a rough time, according to a new study. Researchers in the Netherlands found that the appearance of meat substitutes in a meal may have more of an effect on consumer acceptance than flavour and texture.
Researchers set out to investigate the role of meal context on the acceptance of meat substitutes. They focused on Quorn pieces and mince (mycoprotein and egg white), tofu trips (soy bean curd and olive oil), Tivall stir fry pieces (soy, egg and pea proteins, vegetable oil), Goodbite chicken style (soy, egg and wheat proteins), and Vivera vega stir fry pieces (soy protein and olive oil).
A total of 93 participants were recruited in the Wageningen area of the Netherlands. Vegetarians and people with allergies to any of the replacements were excluded, while participants had varying levels of meat consumption. In general, the use of meat substitutes amongst this group was low.
On 10 days within a two week period, the participants attended a central location and took part in two tests. The first assessed the role of appropriateness and meal context on acceptance: meat substitutes of the same brand and constitution, but with a different shape and appearance (pieces versus mince) were served in four different meal concepts (rice, spaghetti, soup and salad). Participants' appropriateness, positive reaction and intention to use the meat substitute before and after tasting were assessed.
The researchers found that acceptance of meat substitutes was influenced by the overall meat concept and appropriateness of a meal substitute in a meal as rated before tasting tended to influence acceptance of the meal.
"For meat substitutes to be accepted by non-vegetarian consumers, the shape and appearance was importance," said the report. "The ingredients, flavour and texture of the meat substitutes did not seem to be crucial for the acceptance of meals with meat substitutes."
Sensory research, including descriptive analysis is planned, but the researchers said there needs to be more emphasis on consumer evaluation of meal combinations instead of on the sensory properties of the individual product.
Meat consumption has come under the spotlight in recent times, as excessive consumption of meat, especially red meat, has been linked to increased risk of various cancers and other lifestyle diseases. In addition, high demand for animal-derived proteins is adding to climate change and sustainability concerns. Some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, have incorporated environmental advice on meat eating into dietary guidelines alongside health advice.
In 2007, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, suggested that food manufacturers could contribute to the reduction in meat consumption by tweaking product formulations to replace some of the meat in prepared foods with alternatives.
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