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Schnitzel is one of Germany's most recognizable dishes. Florian Wild of the Fraunhofer research organization is working on a vegetarian version that could win over meat-eaters.
Florian Wild of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising near Munich heads the EU's LikeMeat project.
DW: What plants do you use to make your vegetarian schnitzel?
Florian Wild: Soy, wheat, peas and lupin are typical raw materials for meat substitutes made from plants. We're currently also examining other plants.
How different from a real schnitzel does your vegetarian schnitzel taste?
Of course, plant raw materials have a discernible taste of their own. Pea protein has a slight pea flavor, wheat gluten has a grainy flavor. But we actually managed to give our schnitzel a very meat-like aroma. Naturally we have to add the appropriate flavoring agents and extracts - also made purely from plants - and then we get really close to the taste of an actual veal or pork schnitzel.
Your schnitzel is not just supposed to taste like a schnitzel - you want it to have a schnitzel-like texture when chewing, too. Have you been successful?
Whether vegetarian alternatives can replace meat dishes like this wiener schnitzel remains to be seen
That was our focus, to design a product that gives you this elastic impression when you chew it, like a piece of meat. We came up with several products that came very close to the structure of chicken meat. To a certain extent we can vary the texture, so we can create firmer products to emulate firmer kinds of meat or softer products.
How about the nutritional value?
The raw materials we use are high in protein, they have between 65 and 90 percent protein. That means the end product is very rich in protein, too, so it's definately comparable to meat. The products also contain very little fat, just like a lean piece of meat. In addition, in terms of nutritional physiology, our plant schnitzel has an advantage over meat – it has a substantial fibre content.
How do you plan to convince people to buy and eat your plant-based meat?
The feedback we've gotten over the almost two years this project has run is reason enough to be very optimistic that this is more than just a niche product and that we can reach a large group of consumers with the product. Of course, we want our products to be so good that consumers eat them because they like the taste.
Another reason to eat less meat is sustainability: producing food on a plant basis preserves resources better than producing meat. We need less water, less energy and less agricultural areas. It would be a great success if we could convince many consumers to replace a small part of their meat consumption with products like our vegetarian schnitzel.