Six students from Temasek Polytechnic (TP) have developed plant-based alternatives to local culinary favourites like laksa, beef rendang, and chicken and beef satay.
The meatless products were put together by the students in the Diploma in Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science course as part of their final-year project.
Possibly first plant-based rendang and laksa
"I think now in the market, you see more Western plant-based products rather than Asian cuisines," Jacob Ang, 20, a food science elective student who worked on the laksa and rendang, observed.
As part of their research and development process, the students conducted market research which included finding out what products were available as well as how they tasted.
According to the educators who supervised the project, there is but one other plant-based alternative for satay on the market currently.
"But we don't see any plant-based rendang or laksa on the market," Evelyn Goh, Research Scientist at Temasek Polytechnic, pointed out.
Based off grandma's recipe
With that, the students got to work.
The students divided themselves into two groups: one group of three worked on the laksa and rendang dishes, while the remaining three worked on the satays.
The students then conducted research and presented their proposals to an industry partner — a Japanese plant-based food manufacturer, Fuji Oil Group.
The "meat" of the dishes are made out of plant-based alternatives provided by the manufacturer.
Inside the food labs at TP, the students experimented with different recipes to combine local spices and ingredients with the plant-based products which were flown in from Japan.
Along the way, the students consulted with chefs and even their family.
For example, Ang revealed that the beef rendang is actually based off his grandmother's recipe.
"So, the rendang that you'll eat is something that I grew up with," Ang pointed out.
For the meatless laksa, the shrimp broth was replaced with plant-based additives from Fuji Oil Group to recreate the broth's flavours.
Getting right texture the greatest challenge
The most challenging part of the project was getting the texture right, the students said.
"Obviously, we want to mimic the real texture of chicken and beef. But sometimes when we tried to cook with different methods, the outcome may not be what we expected," Benedict Lim, 20, nutrition elective student and a member of the satays team, shared.
So, it was a process of trial and error to "actually come up with something that is desirable".
Here is how the final products look like:
To get a good sense of the nuances of how a satay tastes like, the students expectedly had to taste the real deal itself.
When asked how many satays Lim and his peers had to try, they looked at each other sheepishly before declaring: "too many to count."
500-persons taste test
Eventually, the final products were put to trial in a 500-persons taste test.
The students put out posters and invited the TP community to try their creations and provide feedback.
Testers were not told that they were eating plant-based alternatives beforehand.
Goh shared that while majority of the testers did not tell the difference, around 30 per cent of testers figured out they were eating meatless dishes.
According to Kalpana Bhaskaran, Deputy Director of Industry Partnerships in the School of Applied Science at TP, the final plant-based food products are "zero cholesterol, contains dietary fibre and are high in protein".
The director elaborated that the entire meal has a low carbon footprint and is sustainable, owing to the fact that the dishes are plant-based.
"When it comes to allergen declaration, we need to declare because soy is one of the allergens, and it contains soy," Kalpana informed.
Handing over to juniors
In total, the project took around four months, starting in October 2022 before concluding in January 2022.
Down the line, feedback gathered from the taste tests will be integrated into future renditions of the dishes, Goh said.
However, the six students have done their part.
When they started the project, they were in their final year, and have since graduated from TP.
A new batch of TP students will take over the reins from the current batch and continue working with the industry partner on the project.
Taking pride in their work
Nonetheless, the students shared that they were proud of their innovation.
"We have put in effort into making the products and we're proud of what we have done in the time we had," Kathleen Tay, 21, a culinary elective student and member of the satays team, said.
"Through this project, we really did learn a lot. And so to be able to see our project being launched in the supply chains will be quite a big milestone for us," Lim shared, thinking about future possibilities.
For Ang, he hopes that through their creations, they can "open up people's eyes" to the fact that "Asian cooking can have plant-based alternatives" too.
For now, Kalpana shared that the manufacturer is looking to market the products to "B2B consumers" like restaurants.
"Then later, it can be in consumer packs," Kalpana added.
Top image via Gawain Pek, Temasek Polytechnic