The increase in plant-based products in the diet is an unquestionable fact, as is the growing interest of consumers in so-called diets plant-based or plant-based. In Spain, according to data from the Green Revolution report by the consulting firm Lantern, between 2019 and 2021, the number of people who declared vegetables increased by 34%, to five million citizens. That label includes vegetarians, who consume mainly vegetables, but also eggs and dairy products; vegans, whose diet is based solely on plant-based products, and flexitarians They feed mainly on vegetables, but may occasionally eat meat or fish.
Those five million people in Spain and many others in the world find it increasingly easy to find vegan or vegetarian food, even in traditional supermarkets. So following a plant-based diet seems easy at first, but the reality is that it’s not. And it is not because these foods do not have a specific regulation. “We need a clear framework for this category,” says Natalia Berenguer, president of Vegetales, the first Spanish association of vegetable food and drink producers. “It is not a fashion and, therefore, it must be regulated. As in all food categories, each one has its regulation and game rules, its minimums, its maximums, everything”, she adds.
The fact that there is no specific regulation has forced vegans and vegetarians to become experts in unraveling food labels. “Members of this group are used to reading the list of ingredients in great detail, but, even with that, there are times when we have no guarantee that a product is vegan or vegetarian,” explains Borja Monzo, from the Spanish Vegetarian Union (UVE).
That a lettuce is a lettuce, or a banana is a banana, is obvious to anyone. But if we enter the category of processed foods we can get many surprises. For example, anyone would say that beer or wine are plant products: beer is made from barley and other grains, and wine is made from grapes. But the reality is that they are not always vegan. In both cases there may be an ingredient that generates conflicts: it is called isinglass, which is obtained from the bladder of some fish and is used to make jellies. And these jellies have been used since the 19th century to clarify wines and beers. Most breweries have stopped using them and so have many wineries, but there are still a few that do. According to the online repository Barnivore, which, among more than 35,000 wine brands, identifies those that are vegan, some very popular Spanish wine brands are not vegan: Don Simon, nor wine, nor sangria; Campo Viejo or Cuatro Rayas, for example, would not be according to the information in this repository.
And just as it happens with wine, it happens with some vinegars, in whose production fish glue can also be used. Or with sugar. “What happens with sugar”, explains Borja Monzo, “is that in some places it is still whitened with charcoal from animal bones. This is a practice that is obsolete in Europe, but we can find processed or imported products that have used it”. The expert explains that, in general, the problem is that in the food preparation process “many products that are not of plant origin are used. Either as ingredients, as additives or as technological aids”.
In some cases, such as wine and beer clarifiers, the isin glue that is used only to decant the product is not present in the final product, but for many vegans, its use during the process means that they do not consider that the product is vegan. But since there is no regulation, nothing would prevent, for example, those products from being advertised as vegan.
As with wine, beer, vinegar or sugar, it happens with many other foods. “It also happens with lecithins, which are common in many products and can be of plant origin, soy lecithin is very common, but it can also be egg and then they are no longer vegan. If the information about the ingredients of a product says only lecithin, you do not know if it is of vegetable or animal origin. As with lecithin occurs with albumin. And with many others, what happens is that most people are unaware of its origin: casein is a protein from animal milk, cochineal is a dye obtained from an insect, elastin comes from the ligaments of cattle or the pepsin that is obtained from the stomach of pigs.
“We must bet on transparent and simple labeling -says Natalia Berenguer-, which allows the consumer to know what they are eating: I want to be vegan, I don’t want to be vegan, I want to eat more salt, I don’t want to eat fat…”
And those consumers are no longer a few who stock up at herbalists. According to the Green Revolution report, in 2021 the Spanish market for vegetable substitutes had an approximate value of 430 million euros. And all studies predict an unstoppable rise in the coming years.
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Source: EL PAIS