Research carried out by vegetable and vegan ingredient supplier Vegetarian Express ahead of National Vegetarian Week (16-22 May) found that 60 per cent find meat-free alternatives less appealing when in the format of meat products and preferred the use of natural ingredients such as nuts and pulses in vegetarian dishes.
When asked what style of dish they’d like to see more of on menus, diners cited vegetarian pasta dishes (51 per cent), curries (36 per cent) and stir fries (32 per cent) and despite being synonymous with meat, many diners think barbecue is an area chefs could introduce more vegetarian dishes to.According to the survey of 300 people, 33 per of vegetarians would like to see more vegetarian barbecue options on menus with 26 per cent of meat-eaters saying the same thing.
While vegetarians and vegans are both looking for more menu innovation, the move is backed up by meat-eaters adopting a 'flexitarian' approach to food choices. Seventy-four per cent of meat eaters told researchers they'd try new vegetarian ingredients and dishes out-of-home in the next 12 months.
The findings come following research by the Vegetarian Society which showed that 44 per cent of people now no longer eat meat, have reduced the amount of meat they eat or are considering reducing it.
Will Matier, managing director at Vegetarian Express, said: “It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be vegetarian to love vegetarian food. Meat-eaters and flexitarians are increasingly seeking out vegetarian dishes if they sound interesting and look appetizing.
“Rather than trying to recreate uninspiring meat-free versions of traditional dishes, caterers should be placing more emphasis on their ingredients when menu planning in order to provide interesting, colourful and high quality vegetarian options in their own right.
“Vegetarian ingredients boast a whole range of different tastes, textures and colours – nuts can provide added crunch for example, while chillies can ramp up the heat. Interestingly, 40 per cent of people want more pulses – with 2016 the International Year of the Pulse, now is the time to include them in dishes.”
While chefs understand they need to better cater for vegetarians, some struggle to find ways to make vegetarian dishes as appealing as meat ones.
"It can be easier to make a GP using expensive vegetables than expensive meat, but cooking with vegetables is harder than cooking with meat – making a dish that as a chef you don't think, where's the protein, how do I get that umami hit?," said Craft London chef-owner Stevie Parle, who nevertheless offers a number of vegetarian dishes and has run vegetarian Test Kitchen nights at his London restaurant.
"In the summer you are likely to see at least 25 per cent of the menus at my restaurants 100 per cent vegetarian," he said. "You use fermented things like miso and pickles to develop deep, amazing flavours."