Dumplings, char siu, lo mein, sweet and sour stir fries — a lot of China’s most-loved dishes feature one meat above all: pork. In fact, mainland China is the world’s largest consumer of pork; they’re projected to consume about 56 million tons of it this year alone.
David Yeung is trying to curb Chinese pork consumption by replacing it with a plant-based option called Omnipork. Made from soy, pea, mushroom and rice proteins, Yeung hopes it will exactly mimic the taste and texture of pork. It contains about a third of the calories and saturated fat of traditional pork, as well as more fiber, calcium, or iron. And, since it’s not made from an animal, it doesn’t have any antibiotics or hormones, and carries less of a risk of foodborne illness.
This isn’t Yeung’s first foray into meat alternatives. He is an investor in Beyond Meat and brought the meatless burgers over to Hong Kong to sell in Green Common, a vegetarian grocery store and casual dining chain that he founded. Green Common is one of the few places in the world to serve Just Scramble, a mung bean-based egg substitute.
Omnipork will launch in Hong Kong in June, at Michelin-starred restaurant Cantonese Ming Court. Yeung’s company Right Treat is working to get their product approved by Chinese regulators. If they succeed, Yeung hopes to start selling it in mainland China by the end of 2018.
According to a taste test with CNNMoney, however, Omnipork isn’t fooling anyone yet. Part of the issue might be because there’s so little precedent; Right Treat is one of the first to focus on making a plant-based pork product. Sure Beyond Meat has a (still relatively new) Beyond Sausage and there are a few companies turning jackfruit into pseudo pulled pork. But compared to beef — especially burgers, “bleeding” and otherwise — there are very few examples of plant-based pig products. Add to that the fact that they’re trying to make an all-in-one pork replacement — one that steams, fries, and patties like pork — and they’re going where no meat alternative company has gone before.
Which is also why Omnipork has such great potential. Since there are so few vegan “pork” products, if Yeung can successfully develop one that has the same taste and texture as the real thing, it could be massively successful. After all, pork is the most consumed meat in the world, according to the World Watch Institute — and much of it is consumed in China. 60% of all hogs are bred in China, 95% of which are slaughtered and eaten before they leave the country.
Yeung realized that if he was going to tempt China away from pork, his product would have to be tailored to Chinese culinary tastes. While the majority of plant-based meat alternative companies are developed for Western palates, he worked to create a specifically ‘Chinese’ plant-based pork product. (He did, however, team up with U.S. scientists to develop it.) Because if a pork alternative is going to make a serious dent in the meat industry, it has to make a serious dent in the Chinese pork market.
Yeung’s timing just might pay off. There are around 50 million vegetarians in China, and, thanks to growing concern for health, food safety scares, and millennial dining habits, the number is projected to rise. Pair this with the fact that the Chinese government announced two years ago that they’re aiming to cut national meat consumption by 50% and a growth in the Chinese vegetarian protein market seems inevitable. If demand for meat alternatives increases in China, as it did in the U.S., then Omnipork could soon be flying off the shelves — as long as the flavor gets a little closer to pork.