Karana’s on a mission to change even meat eaters’ palates by creating deceptively scrumptious plant-based substitutes.
This Singapore-based foodtech startup is Asia’s first whole-plant based meat company, which creates pulled pork substitutes from an unlikely source: jackfruit.
Karana’s whole-plant pork is available shredded or minced, and it’s also catered for Asian recipes.
The minced product is suited for dumplings, noodles or rice dishes, while the shredded product is suited for baos, banh mis and stir-fry dishes.
Their version of pork is so close to the real one that people struggle to tell the difference.
“Our dumpling has been known to fool a Chinese grandma,” boast Blair Crichton and Dan Riegler, co-founders of Karana.
From Asian Food Fans To Asian Food Creators
Both Blair and Dan were motivated by “a shared passion for sustainability, delicious Asian cuisine” and a realisation that Asia had few plant-based alternatives to meat catered for Asian recipes.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Blair has worked for meat-substitute startups like Impossible Foods, New Age Meats and The Good Foods Institute in Silicon Valley.
Dan on the other hand, has spent years working in the agriculture, food tech and fintech industry in Southeast Asia. He only became personally invested in sustainability while working on a social enterprise project in Cambodia.
A combination of the founders’ love for Asian food and expertise working in foodtech led to their brainchild: Karana, a company that creates pork substitutes out of jackfruit.
The market timing was right. According to the duo, upwards of 60 per cent of people are looking for healthier food alternatives in Asia.
Since pork was the number one meat consumed in Asia, Karana’s decided to create a product which catered to local palates.
“Plus, we both missed eating delicious dumplings when transitioning to vegan diets.”
Creating Truly Healthy Plant-Based Meats
In an interview with Vulcan Post, Blair and Dan explained that the goal is to recreate Asian comfort food without compensating for health, price or taste.
“We hope this will make it easier for (those living in Asia) to eat healthier and reduce their meat consumption without having to compromise or stop eating the foods they, and we, love.”
Recently, plant-based products have come under fire for being unhealthy, highly-processed products from food industry executives and health experts.
“We love those products and they have done a lot to open the market. But ultimately, it is about responding to consumer demands for more choices, healthier options, and transparency in supply chains,” the co-founders explain.
But why did they choose jackfruit out of all the food choices available?
According to Karana, jackfruit was chosen because of its naturally meaty texture. Young jackfruits also have high nutritional content and fibre, are low in calories and cholesterol free, with a low glycemic index.
Unlike other plant-meat producers, Karana’s processing methods do not contain concentrate or isolates.
Instead of using harsh chemicals or heavy processing, a mechanical process is used to “enhance the texture of the naturally meat-like ingredient” while retaining its nutritional components, says the co-founders.
Jackfruit is also highly sustainable relative to commodity-based crops like soy, peas or wheat. The plant is grown intercropped (mixed with other plants) and used to shade smaller, more delicate crops.
Jackfruit trees also grow for hundreds of years, yielding tons of fruit and requires minimal input or irrigation. That makes it incredibly easy for smallholder farmers to cultivate.
Currently, over 60 per cent of jackfruit produce goes to waste. However, Karana reduces waste by using all edible, compostable components, creating additional income streams for farmers.
Covid-19 An Opportunity For Growth
The meat-substitute trend is nothing new. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis, interest in food science has skyrocketed as supply lines around the world are threatened by social distancing measures.
Enterprise Singapore announced on 26 June that over S$55 million had been set aside for local agriculture and aquaculture firms to “build new capabilities and encourage growth.”
Recently, Karana raised its first US$1.7 million in seed funding. The startup has garnered support from Monde Nissin Corp, Big Idea Ventures and Germi8, among other angel investors.
Karana will use the funds to launch its first range of products and accelerate its research and development (R&D) capabilities. The funds will also be used to build a regional food-tech team.
The startup will be launching their whole-plant pork product with leading restaurant partners in their first phase and is developing a line of ready-to-cook products focused on dim sum. Karana’s partners remain undisclosed.
Blair and Dan assure that the line will be expanded to include more products used in other Asian cultures and recipes. Karana products will be available in retail outlets by 2021.
Revolutionising The Food Industry
Karana’s founders remains cautiously optimistic.
‘’There is still a long way to go in raising consumer awareness. Plus we have seen large spikes in meat consumption as countries get wealthier.”
“(But) with the increased awareness around health and wellness we are starting to see a shift in consumer behaviour.”
Karana may be a for-profit enterprise, but both Blair and Dan are committed to their mission of delivering healthy, sustainable meat substitutes.
“Currently we only commonly consume 30 of 150 edible plant species, and 12 crops makeup 75 per cent of what we eat.”
“We want to be a leader in the new generation of plant based products, showing that we can use under-appreciated and highly sustainable ingredients to make great products.”
“We hope to make it easier for consumers to reduce their meat consumption and bring an end to the destruction of animal agriculture.”
Featured Image Credit: Good Housekeeping / Karana