Plant-based protein brand launches ready-to-heat meals
Chinese plant-based protein brand Zrou is launching a new series of seven convenient meals created by five celebrity Asian chefs, offering consumers a new experience of food derived from plants.
Zrou's interpretation of ground meat stresses the use of healthy, pure ingredients including non-GMO soybeans, konjac, coconut oil and shiitake mushrooms.
The high-quality protein is rich in dietary fiber, low in fat and calories, and free of cholesterol, antibiotics, hormones and MSG. Using a unique processing technology, the product is also isoflavone-free.
Each 100 grams of the Zrou product contains 12.8 grams of protein, yet the fat content is only 7.1 grams, which is 81 percent less than that of pork.
With the goal of making every meal a delight, the chefs' recipes emphasize the use of quality ingredients to achieve star chef tastes.
"We try to make sure that we think of Zrou as Zrou. We are not trying to say it's pork or chicken necessarily, it's a plant-based protein and we let the chefs do whatever they want," said renowned chef and restaurateur David Laris, who is co-founder and chief creative officer of YouKuai Group International, the company behind Zrou.
A global celebrity chef with over 20 years of culinary art experience, Laris is connecting YouKuai with a vast network of talent to redefine how healthy food could be crafted, presented and enjoyed.
Zrou is doing pioneering work in the plant-based protein market by involving top chefs to develop recipes for convenient meals that people can easily cook with microwaves or steamers at home or in the office.
"We started this idea of working with celebrity chefs because we are a chef-led company," Laris said.
"We believe chefs are the trendsetters in the market. They don't cut corners, are very honest and brutal in things and will keep pushing us to be better," he said.
"Each chef will bring a new flavor profile and a new angle, helping us to build a good portfolio of dishes. I think there should be more chefs standing out front and we are also creating a platform for them."
The first two Zrou products that are available in grocery supermarkets, including Apita, Apio and the newly opened Muji grocery, are Zrou Southern Style Dumpling with Mixed Mushrooms and Zrou Southern Style Buns with Mixed Vegetables.
They were created by Lu Chunfeng, executive Chinese pastry chef of InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin, who was working for the first time with plant-based protein.
"What's special about Zrou is that it achieves a great texture and taste without additional food flavorings," she said
Lu's mixed mushroom dumplings and mixed vegetable buns have a more southern-style flavor to cater to the food tastes of people in the Yangtze River Delta region. Their development took three months, as mass-producing the dumplings and buns required extra work to maintain fresh taste and texture.
"For example, the vegetables need to be dehydrated so the dumplings and buns won't go soggy and the fillings would stay fresh and green. And we also added ingredients like olive oil to elevate the flavor," Lu explained.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Lu considers food to be a very important symbol of reunion for her family and hopes that when people eat her delicious food, they will feel more love and happiness.
"Because they're free of cholesterol and low in calories, the Zrou dumplings are healthier, and my daughters would have them for breakfast," she said.
Celebrity chef Jereme Leung is a creative innovator of modern Chinese cuisine, has judged popular cooking shows and was named Best Chef by the American Academy of Hospitality Science.
He created the Singaporean curry rice with Zrou meatballs. It took more than six months to develop because of the challenges associated with maintaining the ingredients' and sauces' best flavors in the convenient food style.
"I have worked with a number of plant-based proteins in slightly different formats," Leung said.
"These mostly focused on making the products taste like meat, for example plant-based 'beef' products that lead you to work with beef recipes.
"But Zrou is a vegetarian source of protein and it's one of the most versatile, it can be anything, we even make excellent desserts with it," he said.
Leung also said Zrou was an excellent plant-based protein in mince form and can work with most recipes that require minced meat, like mapo tofu. It tastes excellent and you couldn't even tell it's not pork.
"The challenge with the Singapore meatballs recipe was to separate different components of the dish from the rice, the meatballs from the vegetables and sauce," he said.
Anthony Zhao, a chef with 20 years of experience in top Chinese and Western restaurants and appearances on BBC and VICE culinary shows, crafted the Shanghainese braised Zrou rice.
"Zrou can be used to make all kinds of dishes, I think it's great to stir-fry with vegetables or made into fillings with mushrooms," said Zhao.
"The inspiration for my recipe was the braised pork rice I used to cook in a Chinese restaurant on Madang Road. It has great flavors that everybody loved, but people on vegetarian or vegan diets couldn't enjoy the happiness of having a hot bowl of braised pork rice, so I decided to use Zrou to recreate the dish for vegetarians and vegans."
Zhang Hu, a master of Chinese-style pastry and primary judge of baked products for the China Culinary Association, created the northern-style buns with shiitake bean sprout and northern-style dumplings with pak choi cabbage.
A Beijing native, Zhang has his own unique interpretation of northern buns and dumplings.
"Pak choi is one of the most common vegetables in northern China, so are shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts," he said.
"And as vegetarian or vegan diets become a popular lifestyle choice, plant-based proteins are stepping up to achieve the right tastes and textures to take meat's place in Chinese cooking," said Zhang.
Li Dong, another Beijing chef who grew up in a gourmet home and was influenced by family cooking skills, created the old Beijing zhajiang Zrou noodle.
"I think the shape and texture of Zrou is easy to work with and chefs can use it to create all kinds of dishes," Li said.
"The zhajiang noodle is a traditional Beijing dish that everybody knows and loves, and the meat sauce made with Zrou is the key to the flavor."