As reports of chicken-related salmonella hit the airwaves, eggs usually get a pretty bad rap. But while there is plenty of blame (and apparently salmonella) to go around, eggs are only part of the problem. As a general rule, eggs are infected because the hen that lays them is also infected. When a healthy bird lays eggs, they are remarkably resistant to contamination. As a result, consumers who have curbed egg usage due to salmonella should consider the implications of poisoning from chickens as well.
With the disgusting pictures of infected farms flashing across our screens, it’s no wonder that chicken substitutes have never been more alluring. What if you could cut into a juicy chicken breast that isn’t chicken at all, but really a “fake fowl” imitation harmlessly sourced from plant life? Such substitutes have actually been around for years. In recent months, however-and no doubt in response to concern over health and safety-food researchers have feverishly worked to better imitate the lean texture and delicate flavor of honest-to-goodness chicken.
Not surprisingly, many of the vegan or vegetarian chicken substitutes feature soy as a prime ingredient. No doubt this is one reason why the Soyfoods Association of North America reported that annual soy product sales totaled $4.1 billion in 2008, up from $300 million in 1992. Despite this remarkable growth (which would be the envy of many other industries) the market for soy-based meat substitutes (chicken included) is still only a fraction of the half trillion dollars that Americans annual spend on meat. The potential has not been lost on researchers and investors, who continue to make considerable progress in developing tasty chicken alternatives that will fool the taste buds of the most discerning diner-in addition to making the manufacturer rather wealthy.
The health-related properties of chicken substitutes are also a prime consideration. As a white meat, chicken has long been touted as a preferred dietary item for individuals desiring to cut down on red meat consumption. A truly desirable chicken substitute needs, then, to not only taste good, but provide some of the healthier features people have come to expect from the “real McCoy.”
Researchers have relied on a number of vegan foods as ingredients for such products. Tofu, tempeh (fermented soy), soy protein, and seitan (wheat gluten) have all played a role in some of the newest, most tasty “fake fowl.” While purists may complain that such meat substitutes are highly processed and therefore not really that healthy, manufacturers of such substitutes are quick to counter that, for those with a taste for chicken, a bit of processing and the salt that goes with it may be preferable to the risk of salmonella.
Some health proponents see in vitro meat, which is actual flesh from a petri dish rather than a live animal, as the ultimate solution. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has offered a $1 million prize to anyone who brings in vitro chicken meat to market by 2012. Proponents of soy chicken counter that such in vitro products are 5-10 years away. Meanwhile, viable substitutes are available now.
Will the day someday come when the chicken you order from Kentucky Fried Chicken is not really chicken at all? Though the answer to that question remains to be seen, there are viable chicken substitutes which you may fry or add to recipes in your own home, and they are available now.