There’s been an increase in meat alternatives over the past years as people began looking for healthier food options, or adopted vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. The market is undeniably growing.
We’ve already seen meat patties made from more common ingredients including beans, tofu, mushrooms, and various plant proteins, to name a few. Though not a new discovery, jackfruit has yet to commonly be used as an alternative in Malaysia.
There are some F&B establishments like Sala KL and PC Studio Cafe already making their own jackfruit meat substitutes for dishes. However, it’s not currently being mass-produced by brands in Malaysia for regular consumption.
It’s why this husband-and-wife duo behind the startup Nanka have taken it upon themselves to pioneer it.
From fruit to “chicken”
“Growing up, I have been exposed to Malay and Indian dishes prepared using jackfruit so I am not particularly foreign to the idea,” shared founder Syafik with Vulcan Post.
“In fact, if you go to the fresh open markets you can see grocers selling what we call nangka sayur, which is what some Malaysians use as a plant component in their cooking. They’re always the unripe, whitish and sticky version of jackfruit.”
He explained that when jackfruit is in that state, it’s pretty much tasteless and chewy until you cook it with spices. Nanka’s minced jackfruit meat is also made using the unripe fruit, so you won’t taste the sweetness a ripe one would have.
In the past when some people tried their burger patties in an international Zumba event, Syafik shared that most of them were in disbelief to learn that 70% of their patties were actually made from jackfruit.
Targeting meat eaters as well
Usually, the main audience for meat alternatives are vegans and vegetarians, but Syafik wants to aim beyond this group of people to cater to. Hence, not all their meat is completely made with jackfruit, like the ones they brought to the Zumba event.
Both their chicken and beef minced meat are made with 70% jackfruit and 30% meat. They do have a 100% plant-based one made from a mix of jackfruit and mushrooms, which Syafik found the hardest to develop during its R&D.
“Our intention right from the get-go was to encourage fellow Malaysians to eat a healthier diet, which means reducing meat as well as avoiding highly processed food. So naturally, our target market is the meat-eaters,” Syafik explained.
“The mixed meat versions are there to prepare them to phase out the meat intake with the psychology of ‘if you still want to eat meat, at least try to eat less’.”
He also clarified that their mixed meat options are made with lean cuts and not fillers like internal organs, which some minced meat distributors do, and they source all their jackfruits locally.
A first version that tasted like biryani
“If my calculations are right, the formulation and recipe we’re using today would be the 167th version over the period of 5 years,” Syafik mused about the joys of being in F&B.
“I can still remember our first version of vegan jackfruit patties, it tasted too much like biryani! Too many spices were added to naturally extend the shelflife.”
The body of the meat wasn’t great as well because it always broke when they tried flipping it. There were times where the jackfruit had incomplete blanching too, which resulted in a sourish taste.
A (well-meaning) burger patties producer once even told them that they should opt to create a new Malay snack instead. But Syafik didn’t want to just give up on this dream.
Over the years, they started building relationships with friends and supporters who helped them improve the texture, form, and taste, bit by bit. These were all chefs, food technologists, ingredient specialists, and even housewives with heritage recipes.
“We have had so many trials and errors mixing all kinds of imaginable natural ingredients, experimenting with different types of mushrooms,” Syafik reminisced.
Meatless isn’t necessarily cheaper
Each standard packet comes with 4 patties that are 80g each. The 100% vegan one is priced at RM18, whereas the chicken and beef ones are RM19 and RM20 respectively. As you’d expect, this isn’t as cheap as real meat patties of course, which usually cost less than RM10 for more patties.
Editor’s Note: The pictures in this piece that were provided to us by Nanka are of the old packaging that state “70g”. We clarified with the team that their updated packaging will reflect the new weight of 80g.
However, it’s important to note that just like anything new in the market where the demand isn’t very high yet, these products are bound to cost higher than their more conventional counterparts. Education would be key to spreading this understanding, since Nanka still struggles with people’s assumptions that their products should be cheaper.
“Maintaining the demand for [a] plant-based diet among our consumers is a challenge, because this could be a product they’re curious about and want to try, but they’ll return to meat once the temptations return. The queue for McDonald’s isn’t getting any shorter!” Syafik said.
But consumers here in Klang Valley have been receptive so far. Some positive feedback they regularly get about their patties is that they’re very filling due to their rich fibre content.
Nanka now has a balanced mix of B2C and B2B customers, the latter of which include 5-star hotels, vegetarian cafes, restaurants and cloud kitchen vendors. Their most popular cloud kitchen vendor is located in the Me.reka space in Publika, Mont Kiara.
Besides burger patties, customers have used their meat in pastas, curry puffs, kacang pool (the Malay version of an Arabic dish made from beans), and sandwiches.
Jackfruit meat is just the beginning of their journey in making plant-based meat alternatives too. Nanka is already involved in joint ventures with other plant-based and cultured meat companies to further develop its line of products.
Besides meat, Syafik is looking at introducing plant-based dairy products like butter and mashed eggs. He shared, “Dairy intake is something I personally have issues with so this would be the next logical step for our burgers.”
Featured Image Credit: Ahmad Syafik Jaafar, founder of Nanka