Steamed buns are a signature dish of Huaiyang cuisine, a style popular in the more affluent cities in the Yangtze River Delta such as Shanghai and Suzhou. The buns are also believed to have inspired a Suzhou-style mooncake, known for its layers of flaky dough and minced pork fillings.
These pork-stuffed buns are one of the most traditional ways for Shanghainese to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival (which occurs this year on September 13). Cantonese mooncakes – typically a sweeter and more greasy variety, filled with egg yolk, lotus paste or red bean filling – tend to be more popular elsewhere in China.
But this year the Suzhou-style mooncake has been gaining ground after a timely makeover: for the first time, mooncakes stuffed with artificial meat will hit the market next month.
Beijing-based Zhenrou is behind the idea. Setting out to become China’s answer to Beyond Meat, the one year-old start-up partnered with a research team from the Beijing Technology and Business University to introduce mooncakes filled with plant-based protein.
Zhenrou relies on peas and soybeans to replace pork mince. Its 28 year-old founder Lu Zhongming told Changjiang Daily that taste tests in Shanghai suggested that most people couldn’t even tell the difference between mooncakes with the traditional filling and those with his product (Zhenrou means “precious meat”).
Launching his innovation as part of one of China’s most celebrated traditions is a clever marketing ploy, with Changjiang Daily also noting that it’s easier to simulate the minced meat used in dumplings and meat balls. Hence the next big challenge for Zhenrou, Lu said, is to introduce vegan versions of pork rib and pork belly. He says his team has been working to make the faux meat look and taste just like the real thing (even making a sizzling sound when pan fried).
According to Securities Daily, eating artificial meat is getting trendy for younger consumers – given the perception that plant-based protein is healthier, more nutritious and more environmentally friendly.
Moreover, since the stellar IPO of Beyond Meat in New York in May (at one point its share price quadrupled), meat substitutes have become a hot concept in the Chinese stock market too. Investors are looking particularly for a firm that can produce an alternative staple for the world’s biggest pork market.
Zhenrou is one of the contenders. Securities Daily reported this month that it had just completed a new round of fundraising and that Lu is looking to take his firm public on Shanghai’s STAR Market soon (for more on this new bourse, see WiC461).
With pork prices surging because of African swine fever, the timing is perfect to launch an alternative to the popular meat.
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