Plant-based meat alternatives are surging — from veggie burgers and soy sausages to high-tech and lab-grown substitutes for beef, chicken and seafood. Yet, there’s another trend brewing that’s all about less meat, not meatless. Say hello to hybrid foods.
Meat and vegetables are joining forces in this fast-growing category of hybrid products appealing to flexitarians, or part-time vegetarians. After all, most people are trying to reduce meat, not eliminate it entirely. About 36% of Americans identify as a flexitarian, compared to 3% who follow a vegan diet, according to a national consumer survey published by Packaged Facts.
The popularity of the flexitarian diet — which scored a No. 2 spot for best overall diet from U.S. News & World Report Best Diets — represents a mindset of moderation, instead of a regimented all-or-nothing approach.
I like that. Let’s celebrate the small changes that could collectively add up to something big — for both personal and planetary health. That’s the philosophy behind the reduceterian movement that encourages the population to reduce meat — not stop eating it entirely. Brian Kateman, Reducetarian founder and author of the “Reducetarian Solution,” is chronicling his journey to eat less meat in a new documentary ” Meat Me Halfway.”
“The path to going plant-based has obvious upsides, but can also be isolating and difficult,” the film’s website states. “Shouldn’t there be some middle ground for people looking to make a change without totally upending their lives?”
Hybrid Food Trend
“Meating” halfway is exactly what the hybrid food trend is all about. I’ve been following this trend for a while. It seemed to get started around 2015 when the Mushroom Council teamed up with the James Beard Foundation for the Blended Burger Project. This project included an annual competition with chefs to create burgers with a mix of mushrooms and meat as a way to stretch meat. Mushrooms are especially good to combine with meat because they offer a rich, umami flavor and juiciness — while helping to reduce saturated fat and the environmental footprint.
The concept of a being a Blenditarian took off, and the blended burger began showing up on blogs, magazine food pages, restaurant menus and even in the frozen food aisle. Some of the early hybrid foods were meat and mushroom blended burgers.
Now all sorts of companies are jumping on the hybrid trend — from startups to big meat companies, such as Perdue, Tyson and Hormel. Even dairy companies are joining in. Live Real Farms recently launched milk blends with real dairy milk and plant-based milk alternatives, including almond and oat. The Laughing Cow introduced real cheese spreads mixed with plant-based ingredients, such as chickpeas, lentils and red beans combined with spices and herbs.
Here’s a look at some of the latest hybrid foods.
[READ: How to Stretch Meat Recipes.]
“Less meat is neat” is the rallying cry of Misfit Foods, which started out as a company selling ugly or misfit produce to help reduce food waste. Now the founders, environmental entrepreneurs Phil Wong and Dave Betts, want to help meat lovers reduce their daily carnivorous habits with their creative line of blended sausages and ground beef.
Maybe you spotted Phil Wong on ABC’s Shark Tank, which helped give the company a big boost. The flavor-forward blended products are made with ethically-sourced meats and a variety of vegetables, including beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and kale. The blended ground beef patty mix (60% grass-fed beef, 40% vegetables and spices) is available in Korean BBQ Beet Gochujang and Beef and Lao-style Curry Carrot and Beef. Their sausages (made with a 50-50 blend) include Citrus Kale and Chicken Chimichurri, and Sweet Potato and Chicken Hot Andouille.
Seemore Meats & Veggies
Founded by Cara Nicoletti, a fourth-generation butcher who grew up in the meat industry, Seemore Meats & Veggies has a similar vibe as Misfit Foods with their colorful, whimsical sausages made with humanely-raised meats and up to 35% vegetables. The name “seemore” embodies Nicoletti’s promise of transparency in everything they do — from production to ingredients.
The blended sausages were crafted to conjure up the experience of dining on comforting dishes like chicken soup, loaded baked potatoes, and broccoli melts. The veggie-packed sausages include La Dolce Beet, which is made with pork, fresh beets, garlic and fennel, and Chicken Parm sausage — with chicken, roasted tomatoes, basil, cheese and toasty breadcrumbs.
Applegate Well Carved
Major meat company Hormel leapt into the hybrid trend with its Applegate Well Carved line of frozen blended burgers and meatballs. The products include grass-fed beef and organic turkey burgers mixed with vegetables and two types of blended meatballs: Asian-style pork meatballs and Mediterranean-style turkey meatballs, both with added vegetables.
[SEE: Plant-Based Diet Ideas.]
Dietz & Watson
The 80-year-old Dietz & Watson company, best known for its sliced deli meats and cheeses, got into the game with a line of blended chicken sausages. The new blends are made with 50% chicken and 50% quinoa and vegetables. Varieties include Italian-style, spicy cheddar and tomato basil.
Even kid-friendly chicken nuggets are getting the blended treatment. Perdue joined forces with the Better Meat Co. to launch Chicken Plus nuggets and tenders that combine chicken breast with cauliflower, chickpeas and textured wheat protein. Described as “veggies hidden in every bite,” the products only provide ¼-cup of vegetables per serving — which even the website admits isn’t a significant amount.
Real Meat, With Less
The hidden vegetables remind me of the approach popularized by Jessica Seinfeld with her “Deceptively Delicious” cookbook that included recipes for sneaking vegetables into brownies and other kid favorites. I’m all for adapting recipes to make them more nutrient dense, but I was never a fan of stealth vegetables. In fact, it was the topic of one of my first blog posts in 2009.
Hybrid foods may be one way to reduce meat consumption — and there are lots of new products to try. Just be sure to have more vegetables on the side and not just check the box that you’re eating veggies. Many of the products provide only ¼-cup of vegetables and the nutrient differences may not always be that dramatic. Yet, it may be one way to enjoy a real meat experience while reducing overall meat intake.
There are also lots of tasty plant-based meat alternatives to explore. Or sometimes you just want the real thing. And that’s fine too. It’s all about moderation.
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