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Karana: Asia’s plant-based faux meat a la jackfruit

Pork-free pork to satisfy even though Veganuary is already over.

Another contender steps up to the plate to satisfy Singapore’s – and the rest of the world’s – growing appetite for healthier, more sustainable forms of meat substitutes. Enter Karana, a Singapore-based tech start-up that’s banking on jackfruit, a naturally meat-like (at least texturally) crop that’s already seen use in many a plant-forward menu. Though the company’s been on the scene for two years now, they’ve finally launched their first product this year – jackfruit-based pork.

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A boon for the crop’s suitability is its efficiency – high yields, combined with low water usage, makes planting jackfruit exceptionally friendly to smaller plantations. Says one of the co-founders, Dan Riegler, who’s spent years in Southeast Asian agricultural supply chains and numerous start-ups in the realm of agriculture, fintech and food tech, “60 per cent of jackfruit is currently being wasted – making it a contributor to global warming. With Karana, we’ll be reducing that wastage while working with farmers to support the local economy.” 

KARANA – Candlenut KARANA Ngoh Hiang landscape

Jackfruit, which is usually grown intercropped, isn’t just great for ecological biodiversity. It’s also versatile in the kitchen, says the company’s other half, Blair Crichton, which is why it’s the key ingredient the company focused on making easier to work with while enhancing its meat-like qualities.

To that end, they’re sourcing their jackfruit from Sri Lankan farmers and coaxing it into faux meat. We say coaxing, because Karana’s ethos is rooted in minimal processing. That means no heavy chemicals or fiddling with what’s already a good product – that is, jackfruit. 

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The product, which comes either minced or shredded for now, will be launching in six like-minded restaurants including the likes of Open Farm Community, Morsels and Candlenut. The lattermost is a one-Michelin-starred mod-Peranakan institution Candlenut, headed by chef-owner Malcolm Lee. In his hands, that means pork-free ngoh hiang (though the jury’s still out on how closely it tastes to, well, actual pork).

KARANA whole-plant meat 8

All said, it’s certainly crowding out an increasingly crowded space. Other plant-based alternatives include Float Foods’ Onlyeg, as well as the giants that are Beyond Meat and Impossible. Cultured options like Eat Just’s cultured chicken, have also sprung onto the market.

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Going meat-free isn’t all about sacrificing culinary staples – nor is it eating mystery mush where the back of the box reads like a phonebook. Sometimes, it could be finding the right ingredients that’re as good for the planet as they are for our palates.