Page 42 - Food & Drink Magazine Jan-Feb 21
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                 INDUSTRY OPINION
What’s in a name?
The growing popularity of alternative milks and proteins raises questions around how we define traditional concepts of milk and meat. Dr Philip Button writes.
DECADES ago, meat and milk had a simple and straight- forward definition. Plant-based diets were in the minority and so were plant-based products. Few people really knew what such a lifestyle involved and even fewer followed them – they were definitely not approaching mainstream.
Fast forward to the last decade and especially the last five years, and the booming plant-based movement is pushing the boundaries of traditional definitions of diets and food products. While they may still be in a minority, their increasing dominance in diverse product categories suggests
demand is widespread across many demographic groups. What does this mean, for
example, for dairy milk and soy milk, which have happily co-existed for centuries in different parts of the world, only to be in a terminology war over the last few years? It is time to rethink product definitions or terminology or time to redefine scope.
With the angst by some over the broad use of the word milk, some may believe that this use in a non-dairy context is a recent trend – not so. For example, it has been noted that
coconut milk has been known by that name for some 800 years, with its origins in India and South East Asia.
Almond milk (from the Middle East, northern Africa and England) and soy milk (from China) both originated in the 14th century, under those names, though commercial production only commenced around 110 years ago, in France. Rice milk is a much newer product on the market, and next year will mark 100 years since its development in the US.
Even though the word ‘milk’ has been in use for many hundreds of years in the context of plant products, the increasing
market dominance of plant- based milks has made it a particularly contentious issue, subject to legal challenges and intense scrutiny by the world’s leading regulatory bodies.
In considering this current debate, it can be interesting to delve back in time to early definitions of words and their origins. When Old English was spoken, between about 850 and 1150, meat tended to refer to solid sustenance or provisions, and was even used as a verb, especially in the context of providing sustenance to animals, which was unrelated to meat being obtained from those animals.
From early on, this definition has certainly been widespread, even referring to solid parts of plants as food, for example coconut meat. In essence, the word ‘meat’ was a word used for food.
While we may think of the plant-based movement as a recent phenomenon, it has its origins centuries ago. There has been references to vegetarianism and tofu as a meat replacement for more than 1000 years, with mentions in Chinese literature from 965.
In the Western world, concepts for meat replacement didn’t appear until more than 900 years later, in 1888. While the idea of tofu and legumes as meat replacements are well-established, internet search analysis by Google shows consumer searches for plant- based meat were not on the radar until 2019.
So where does leave us now in just two years? Myriad meat alternatives or mock meat products have become available to satisfy the huge and ongoing
Bickfords introduced its plant-based milk range in 2020.
42 | Food&Drink business | January/February 2021 |

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