OJAI, Calif. -- What looks like meat, tastes like meat and even chews like meat? According to Michael Meek, chief executive officer of Gorilla Foods here, it's wheat gluten -- combined with a few other all-vegetable ingredients. The company has a line of new, all-vegetable meat analogues that successfully mimic the eating experience of chicken, turkey, beef and even hot dogs.
"No one else has developed a vegetable product with striations like real meat," Meek said. "This is a unique, singular product. We actually stumbled upon the process by accident."
Because the protein source is wheat, the products do not have the beany flavor associated with many products containing soy protein. The fibrous structure of the meat analogues coupled with its bland flavor give the illusion of real meat.
"Few people can tell the difference between the mock chicken and the meat they are accustomed to, either by the look or the texture," said Meek. "If it is flavored or is in an entree or salad, it is virtually indistinguishable by taste. A lot of companies are interested in learning more about low-fat meat analogues. We have been surprised by the number of sample requests from R&D department heads."
Meek is looking beyond the vegetarian market. He cited the low-fat content of these products as a major advantage. The hot dog, for example, contains about one-tenth the fat of a typical meat hot dog. The products contain no cholesterol, preservatives, hormones or antibiotics, and so should appeal to those in search of healthier food alternatives.
The product comes in dices, slices and "pulled" chicken, a shredded version. Formed "breast" fillets are planned for the immediate future. An all-vegetable version of pepperoni is currently undergoing formulation.