‘Classical French Cuisine’ has all but disappeared, albeit for the few remaining stalwart dishes. The UK’s eating habits have changed dramatically since the days of Escoffier, the reasons are many and intertwined, but the awareness of the socioecological impact on our eating regime is one of the most important today. The move away from the use of unhealthy, rich based sauces and extensive use of dairy foods such as milk, cream, and eggs towards a more plant inclusive diet is becoming more realistic and is driven by a growing awareness of what we eat.
This, therefore, has a significant impact on the catering industry, and not least the chef. Plant-based ingredients are derived entirely from plants and that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Plant-based foods offer a challenge for chefs and confectioners, yet some of this is not new, we have been using some plant-based foods for many years; margarine as a substitute for butter, agar as a setting agent in place of gelatine, are good examples.
So how can the food worker adapt to these changes, how can these ingredients be incorporated into an existing recipe? Understanding how traditional ingredients function within a recipe is vital. All ingredients have a function, most have more than one. When one is taken out, it will need to be replaced. Finding the right balance is the key.
A good place to start is with one ingredient, deconstruct the recipe and experiment by substituting it with a plant-based alternative. The outcome may be successful or further experimentation may be necessary, it is all about trial and error – adapting, it’s what chefs do well!
What are the options? I am sure the alternatives to cow’s milk – almond, coconut, oat, rice, are now well known and that soya, has many culinary uses, including that as an emulsifier. But there may be some less obvious or well-known ingredients: flaxseed can be used as an alternative to egg white as an aerator and yolk in binding.
I have successfully used ‘Panaceg’ (compound of potatoes, seaweed, cellulose and gum) to replace whole egg in choux paste. ‘Natur Emul’ works well in ganache as an alternative to cream, though I confess not to have used it in making chocolate yet. Aquafaba or the liquor from cooked chickpeas, when whisked, forms a strong egg foam and again I have used this to make meringue for macrons and marshmallows.
The benefit of using plant-based foods is that they do not hide flavours, the true taste is apparent and not diminished. Secondly and with one or two exceptions, they remain stable during freezing and cooking. By reducing unhealthy animal fat in a recipe and replacing it with a plant-based ingredient, far healthier products can be achieved.
I am certain that plant-based foods are not just one of those fads that come and go overnight, they are here to stay and are just another stage in the development of food and cooking for the future.