Fabulous finger food: Plant Chef No Mozzarella Sticks, Wicked Kitchen No-Chicken Drumettes and Wicked Kitchen No Prawn Firecracker Dippers, all pictured, are perfect party food.
‘People choose to go plant-based for health reasons, for ethical reasons, or because of environmental considerations,’ explains Derek Sarno, Tesco’s Director of Plant-Based Innovation. ‘Whatever the reason, we want to give people more choice.’
That’s why Tesco has committed to increase the sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300 per cent in just five years, a first for a UK supermarket. The pledge forms part of its effort, in partnership with WWF, to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket and make affordable, healthy, sustainable food accessible to everyone.
But how do you go about reimagining the most traditional meal of the year? The answer, according to Derek, is months of preparation and experimentation.
Hailing from the US, Derek has made a name for himself with his unique approach to plant-based foods, using techniques he honed over years spent working as a chef. To create the new festive plant-based ranges, he spent months with a team of development chefs from some of Tesco’s long-term suppliers, including Hilton Foods. Together they experimented to find ways to perfectly replicate the taste, smell and texture of meat.
‘We’re offering a lot of meat and fish substitutes this Christmas as part of the festive plant-based range. That requires a lot of work to find new ingredients and textures, creating the fibres and wheat structures that can help replicate meat,’ explains Sophie Harding, Innovation Director at Hilton Foods and one of the development chefs working with Tesco year round.
No meat, no compromise on taste: Wicked Kitchen Wellington, pictured, is a tasty offering with a centre made from pea protein and coated in a garlic porcini and chestnut mushroom duxelle.
The highlight of Tesco’s plant-based offering this year is the No-Turkey Crown, which replicates the classic turkey crown, complete with a sage and onion crumb and a vegan butter-style melt, topped with a bay leaf. The team worked tirelessly behind the scenes to come up with the perfect combination of flavours and textures that matched the real thing.
‘We’ve been developing it for two years and worked with a flavour house to create a natural, vegan turkey flavouring that gives the full sensory experience of the real thing.’ Sophie says.
‘For me, it has to be the product people will be most surprised by,’ adds Derek. ‘It all comes down to texture and using a combination of soy and wheat proteins, kind of like a seitan. It’s the first one of its kind and we’re really excited to be able to launch that this year.’
Wonderfully warming: The Wicked Kitchen Ginger Chai Cake is made with crystallised ginger pieces and a spiced chai tea soak. The hand decorated design adds to the festive feel.
The result of all that hard work is a delicious Christmas menu that provides meat- and dairy-free takes on some festive family favourites, bringing the number of plant-based products Tesco has on its shelves up to 400.
For those not quite ready to swap out the traditional turkey, there are butter-free mince pies, Plant Chef Pigless Blankets, and BBQ Jackfruit Bon Bons made from pulled jackfruit in a crunchy seasoned crumb and smoky barbecue sauce.
Derek and his team are especially proud of their festive party food range, which includes products like the Wicked Kitchen No Prawn Firecracker Dippers, seasoned with spices inspired by the big, punchy flavours of classic Asian cuisine.
Kate is confident that the new range will prove a hit with all the family. ‘I’d challenge anyone to be able to tell the difference between our Plant Chef mince pies and standard mince pies.’
‘Regardless of how we spend Christmas this year, there will always be people with different dietary needs and requirements eating together within a household,’ she says. ‘I think that the demand for plant-based will grow over the coming months as more people will be spending time within their households, catering for every person within their home, large or small.’