How to feed a growing population sustainably – this revolutionary plant-based alternative is not just for vegans

Rose Mary Petrass

The issue of feeding a growing population sustainably is at the forefront when it comes to the plant-based meat industry. But bringing affordable and tasty products to consumers – that’s the clincher.

Even if you don’t follow a plant-based diet, you’ve probably tried it all – tofu, tempeh, seitan, Beyond Meat, and jackfruit to name a few. But I bet you’ve never whipped up a spag bol sauce made from… oats?

That’s the latest trend in plant-based meat coming out of Finland, and unlike many other meat-free proteins it doesn’t have an ingredients list of additives as long as your arm. 

Finnish startup Gold & Green launched its oat-based, plant protein food, Pulled Oats in 2015 and the sustainable meat alternative has already hit supermarket shelves in Australia after becoming a staple in the US and Europe (in fact, Taco Bell has even added it to its menu in the UK).

The company hosted an exclusive evening of drinks and plant-based dishes in the swanky Yallamundi rooms in the Sydney Opera House, to showcase the revolutionary new meat substitute.

Television and radio presenter, podcaster and author Yumi Stynes was the host, along with Green & Gold chief marketing officer Annette Kauppinen and special guest, chef Tom Walton who did a live cooking demonstration. 

The menu included entrees of boa bun and shan choy bow, and a set main of farfalle – all made with Pulled Oats to demonstrate the versatility of possible dishes.

“This event brings me back to where I started as a chef, which is to give and share food,” chef Tom Walton said. 

“I just want to nourish people. This food allows me to do that. It is manufactured in a way that is so simple.”

Yumi Stynes talked about the importance of sustainable food choices and how this new product gives consumers the ability to make more eco-conscious decisions when it comes to protein choices. 

Sustainable food choices are like “hugging the planet back,” she said. 

With a stringy texture and meaty flavour similar to pulled pork, Pulled Oats can be added as a meat substitute in virtually any dish – including desserts. (“Yes, you can absolutely use it in a dessert,” Mr Walton told The Green List. “Try chopping it up in small pieces and adding it to an apple pie, for example.”)

Australia’s share of plant-based meat sector is on the cusp of massive expansion, “set to contribute up to $3 billion to the nation’s economy and generate thousands of full-time Australian jobs by 2030”, according to a report by Food Frontier Meat The Alternative: Australia’s $3 Billion Opportunity study.

“Put simply, we’re facing a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for Australia to become a global plant-protein powerhouse, and the great news is we already have the intellectual and infrastructure assets to seize it,” Food Frontier chief executive Thomas King stated. 

The Australian plant-based meat sector nearly doubled from $35.2 million in the 2019 financial year to $69.9 million in the 202 financial year. Employment increased 106 per cent from 265 to 547 people.

Ms Kauppinen said that the pandemic has caused people to shift towards making healthier choices, which is part of the reason that the company is expanding into Australia. 

Pulled Oats offers a protein content of 30 grams per 100g (that’s slightly more than chicken and beef, which contain 27g and 26g per 100g, respectively) and an iron content of 5.7 mg per 100g. That’s more iron than beef, surprisingly, which contains 2.6mg of iron per 100g. 

And Ms Kauppinen said that iron content is an important consideration for vegetarians and vegans, especially since many meat alternatives don’t do much in the way of iron. 

In fact, she said that recently an unnamed member of the Indian government visited their company to see if Pulled Oats could be a viable solution to high levels of iron deficiency in the Indian population. 

In India, iron-deficiency anaemia affects more than 600 million people – attributable to the fact that for religious reasons a whopping 40 per cent of the population are vegetarian (in Australia it’s at 10 per cent), while 80 per cent limit their meat intake.

And the best part is that the carbon footprint for Pulled Oats is only 2.4 kg carbon emissions per kg, including all stages from agricultural input to the first customer in Finland. By comparison, one kilogram of beef produces an average of 99.48 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s a big difference. 

Animal agriculture accounts for roughly 14 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Could oats represent a viable alternative to feed humanity’s growing population in a more sustainable way? 

Oats are cheap, nutritious and good for the soil, and are relatively sustainable crops as long as pesticides are not used – since oats are not known to cause significant damage to air, water, or soil. Finland is apparently well-known for its oats, as Annette points out that during the short growing season Finland sees 24 hour long sunlight filled days and nights, enabling crops to grow quickly and efficiently. 


What about the other ingredients? 

Manufactured in Finland, Pulled Oats only has five ingredients: Nordic oats, fava bean, pea protein, oil and spices. 

Fava beans are similarly sustainable food crops, and according to research are well-known for absorbing atmospheric nitrogen and sequestering it in the soil symbiotically under a broad spectrum of environmental conditions. (Other plants by contrast can deplete soil of nitrogen.) 

The main difficulty that Green & Gold had in bringing this new product to market was in the manufacturing stage. There were difficulties in the mechanical process, since no one had made the required machine before. 

Green & Gold developed a proprietary mechanical manufacturing process enabling it to create a fibrous oat-based meat – which was tricky since oats are usually “slimy” because of their beta-gluten.

Ms Stynes said that this product will encourage more people to eat plant based food, saying that while eating meat has traditionally been seen as “masculine” and “blokey”, it is hoped that having more plant-based options will mean that people see these dishes as a standalone protein product in their own right, rather than simply a stand-in for steak. 

You may see more Pulled Oats on menus around Australia, if this company gets its way. 

And speaking of gender, the sustainable food company is proud to be largely women-led in an industry that seems to be so male-dominated. 

“All of our management team is basically ladies and it’s really fun to work in a female team, it’s very empowering,” Ms Kauppinen said. 

(“But we do love men, it’s wonderful to have them,” she quipped).

“We are proud to have a female-founded company.”