Plant-based Wagyu beef that comes in teriyaki strip form is expected to be added to the menu at thousands of U.S. sushi restaurants very soon.
The new vegan item (called “Waygu”) is made using a plant-based version of the luxurious Japanese beef, which typically comes from a specific breed of cattle with special genetic qualities. It is currently in a trial phase and is slated to be available at select stores and restaurants across the United States thanks to a partnership between Top Tier Foods, a Canadian manufacturer that focuses on plant-based sushi ingredients, and Advanced Fresh Concepts.
Advanced Fresh Concepts, which is owned by Zensho Holdings—one of Japan’s largest food service companies—boasts more than 4,000 sushi locations in North America and owns and operates Rouses Supermarkets, a grocery store chain in Louisiana.
“This trial will hopefully be the beginning of a long and successful partnership between AFC, Zensho Holdings and Top Tier Foods,” TTF president Blair Bullus said in a press release shared with LIVEKINDLY. “With an ever-increasing demand for plant-based alternatives, we believe Top Tier Foods can help fill that demand with unique products that offer both quality and sustainability for Zensho’s global clientele.”
In an Instagram video announcing the partnership on February 11, Top Tier Foods called Waygu “goodness reimagined.”
The brand explained: “At the heart of our plant-based Waygu strips are centuries of Japanese culinary tradition. Waygu incorporates timeless cooking techniques using traditional plant-based ingredients to create an experience that will captivate your senses while respecting our planet.”
What Is Plant-Based Wagyu Beef?
Top Tier Foods, which also sells vegan sushi quinoa that can be used in sushi rolls, poke bowls, nigiri and more, produces its Waygu beef in Japan using traditional Japanese cooking methods.
The soy-based food is made with ingredients such as soy sauce, rice wine, garlic paste, and ginger. The resulting teriyaki strips are so versatile that they can be used in place of real beef in dishes like noodle bowls, soups and even sushi.
“Our team in Japan worked tirelessly to create the textures and flavors that mimic this exceptional beef by using traditional ingredients and cooking methods,” Bullus continued. “With centuries of culinary experience working with soybeans in dishes such as tofu, soy sauce, bean curds, and miso, we know that applying these methods could result in a wonderful meat alternative produced in Japan.”
Plant-Based Wagyu Beef Can Fool the Pros
Top Tier Foods’ Waygu beef first gained traction last year thanks to its super realistic taste and texture. The plant-based meat alternative is so realistic that it managed to fool renowned chef Hidekazu Tojo who runs high-end Vancouver sushi spot, Tojo’s Restaurant.
“I thought I was eating real Wagyu beef, I didn’t believe it was made from plants,” Tojo exclaimed, according to the press release, when he sampled the vegan beef last year. “My first impression was this was real Wagyu beef. It was incredibly tender, similar to Wagyu beef, and seasoned very well. I am very impressed.”
Other Plant-Based Wagyu Alternatives
Top Tier Foods’ Waygu beef isn’t the first product of its kind.
In August 2020, Australian food group JAT Oppenheimer launched a vegan version of Wagyu beef made from tofu known as V Meat.
And in 2018, California-based food tech company JUST announced its intention to develop clean, cultured meat from Toriyama cattle cell lines. “For decades, the Toriyama family has paired science and skill with a passion for achieving a superior flavor for all the meat they produce,” Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of JUST, said in a statement at the time.
“Precious few have had the chance to experience umami Wagyu,” he continued. “And we hope this partnership allows more restaurants to share Toriyama beef and its story in a new, exciting way.”
Cultured meat, like JUST’s version of Wagyu, is also having a moment. Earlier this month, an Israeli food technology company called Aleph Farms used 3D bioprinting technology (and animal cells) to cultivate a slaughter-free ribeye steak.