The Truth About Fake Meat

Plant-based alternatives to animal flesh are becoming more popular. Whether it's because of how their use can combat climate change or other reasons, even some of the best fast-food places offer meat alternatives on their menus. However, there is an interesting truth behind all the recent progress for these products.

Throughout human history, people have often rediscovered innovations that ancient cultures developed but were lost to time. For example, Curious History explains how ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures had refrigeration methods to preserve food centuries before modern refrigerators came into circulation. Ancient Origins also details how a first-century Greek engineer drew up designs for a steam engine long before locomotives started chugging, too.

If it seems impossible that people who lived hundreds of years ago could have been preparing delicious plant-based meals, you need to think beyond what you already know. Like outfits with overalls, everything old truly does become new again.

The first plant-based meat alternatives

Vice reports that the origins of plant-based meat substitutes not only don't start in the 20th century but also the roots stretch across the Pacific Ocean. Vice cites records from China's Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907 AD, documenting banquets featuring imitation mutton and pork. The Chinese chefs, in these instances, used vegetables to create fake flesh, according to Vice.

Vice says that along with the rise of Buddhism in China came a rise in vegetarianism. Just like Buddhism hasn't gone anywhere since, the use of vegetarian alternatives persisted in the country over time, as The Takeout lays out. They report that Chinese factories started mass-producing plant-based fake meat by the middle of the 20th century.

The Takeout further explains that "ersatz meats" remain a common item in Asian markets today. The vegetarian mock chicken and vegan duck, as they are called, are now composed of seitan with a few other ingredients to give them a flavor and texture that resembles actual poultry.

So, fake meat is neither an American invention nor a modern creation. It's more a part of a culinary, cultural exchange, akin to an American orange chicken recipe. So the next time you flip a plant-based patty on a grill, you'll actually be following in the steps of ancient Chinese cooks.