'Cheese', mylk and fast food: Five trends in veganism

Vegan alternatives are set to swamp Australian barbecues this summer.
Vegan alternatives are set to swamp Australian barbecues this summer.  Photo: Supplied

Australia is the third fastest-growing vegan market in the world. More than two million people now identify as either vegetarian or vegan – about 8 per cent of the population – according to American research group NPD.

Once considered a fringe movement, it's become so mainstream that World Vegan Day will be celebrated at Melbourne Showgrounds on Sunday with speakers, food demonstrations, live music and stalls. Here are five trends in veganism in Australia:

Nutritionist Maddie Bingham says a splash of water and vegetable stock prevents plant-based burgers from disintegrating.
Nutritionist Maddie Bingham says a splash of water and vegetable stock prevents plant-based burgers from disintegrating. Photo: Supplied

Part-timers

More than 40 per cent of Australians say they are actively seeking to reduce their meat intake, according to market researcher Euromonitor. 

Plant-based products are increasingly filling supermarket shelves, supporting trends such as "meatless Monday", where otherwise carnivorous householders go vegetarian for the day. 

Minor Figures' oat milk has been designed for baristas as an alternative to cow's milk.
Minor Figures' oat milk has been designed for baristas as an alternative to cow's milk. Photo: Zsuzsa Zicho

Adrian Gastevski, co-founder of Future Farm Co, which owns brands such as Beyond Meat, says he has seen a dramatic increase in open-mindedness in the past few years.

"We're starting to understand that a little bit less meat is probably better for us, and introducing a more plant-based focus to our diet is not only good for our health but has great environmental benefits."

"Cheese"

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Former journalist Katrina Fox, the founder of Vegan Business Media, says while Australia generally lags behind the US and UK in vegan trends, we are matching them on non-dairy cheese. 

"I've been a vegan for 22 years, I've done the hard yards and tasted the cheese that tastes like rubber. Australia is on a par with the world at the moment," she says.

With the growing interest has come an improvement in flavour and texture of faux fromage. 

Alternatives to alternatives: Macadamia, soy, almond and oat milk.
Alternatives to alternatives: Macadamia, soy, almond and oat milk.  Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Tasmanian company Artisa and Melbourne-based AVS Organics produce artisan plant-based cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta and even blue cheese using ingredients such as soy protein, coconut oil, nuts and tapioca flour.

Fast plant foods

Hungry Jack's is the latest fast food burger chain to offer a vegan burger, partnering with the CSIRO to develop more legume-based products.

Minor Figures' oat milk has been designed for baristas as an alternative to cow's milk.
Minor Figures' oat milk has been designed for baristas as an alternative to cow's milk. Photo: Supplied

"The last taste test I had, I thought they were tricking me," owner Jack Cowin said last month. 

They're one of many mainstream food outlets doing the same. This month Muffin Break released a range of four muffins made without eggs or dairy, and Crust Pizza has introduced "crab" cakes and "scallops" al fungi, made from the heart of palm, a vegetable harvested from the inner core of some palm tree varieties. 

High-grade barbecue alternatives

Nutritionist Maddie Bingham says a splash of water and vegetable stock prevents plant-based burgers from disintegrating.
Nutritionist Maddie Bingham says a splash of water and vegetable stock prevents plant-based burgers from disintegrating. Photo: Supplied

Vegans no longer have to make do with dreary grilled vegies and crumbly patties at summer barbecues. Alternatives are becoming more widely available, including jackfruit in place of pulled pork, king oyster mushrooms subbing in for scallops and banana blossom for fish.

Nutritionist Maddie Bingham from Flannerys Organic and Wholefood Market says tofu can make a convincing substitute for fish in a burger.

"You just cut up a bit of tofu in the shape of a fish fillet, stick nori to one side of it, batter it and fry it. It tastes like fish because it's got the seaweed in it."

And there's now no excuse for dry, disintegrating burgers, says Ms Bingham.

"I blend mushrooms and walnuts to make a base, and add in heaps of herbs, spices and a bit of water and vegetable stock to make it mushier so you can bind it or roll it into sausages or patties."

Milk or Mylk?

Plant-based milk now accounts for about 7 per cent of Australia's milk consumption, with both vegans and the lactose-intolerant seek alternatives.  

Almond milk makes up almost half the non-dairy milk market, while soy has plummeted from almost 70 per cent in 2014-15 to less than half.

There's an increasing number of alternatives to the alternatives, too.

Oat milk is becoming the most popular dairy-free milk in the US and the UK.

British-based coffee company Minor Figures has formulated oat milk for baristas that allows "the characteristics of great coffee to shine through and don't split in acidic coffee". It's being taken up by high-profile cafes such as St Ali, Allpress and Padre.