How S’pore Startup Karana Turns Jackfruit Into Plant-Based Pulled Pork

Karana is on a mission to change even the palate of meat eaters by creating deceptively delicious herbal substitutes.

This Singapore-based foodtech start-up is Asia’s first whole plant-based meat company, which creates pulled pork substitutes from an unlikely source: jackfruit.

Karana’s whole plant pork is available shredded or ground, and it’s also suitable for Asian recipes.

The chopped product is suitable for dumplings, noodles or rice dishes, while the grated product is suitable for baos, banh put and stir-fries.

Their version of the pork is so close to the real one that people find it hard to tell the difference.

“Our dumpling is known to cheat on a Chinese grandmother,” boast Blair Crichton and Dan Riegler, co-founders of Karana.

From Asian food lovers to Asian food creators

Blair and Dan were both motivated by “a shared passion for sustainability, delicious Asian cuisine” and the realization that Asia had few plant-based alternatives to meat for Asian recipes.

Blair Crichton and Dan Riegler, Co-Founders of Karana
Image Credit: Karana

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Blair has worked for meat replacement startups like Impossible Foods, New Age Meats, and The Good Foods Institute in Silicon Valley.

Dan, on the other hand, has spent years working in the agriculture, food tech and fintech industry in Southeast Asia. He only got personally involved in sustainability by working on a social enterprise project in Cambodia.

A combination of the founders’ love for Asian cuisine and expertise in food technology led to their idea: Karana, a company that creates pork substitutes from jackfruit.

The timing of the market was right. According to the duo, more than 60% of people are looking for healthier food alternatives in Asia.

Since pork was the most consumed meat in Asia, Karana’s decided to create a product that appealed to local palates.

“Plus, we both missed eating delicious meatballs when transitioning to a vegan diet.”

Create truly healthy plant-based meats

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Blair and Dan explained that the goal is to recreate Asian comfort food without making up for health, price, or taste.

“We hope this will allow (those who live in Asia) to eat healthier and reduce their meat consumption without having to compromise or stop eating the foods that they and we love.”

Recently, herbal products have come under fire for being unhealthy and highly processed from food industry executives and health experts.

“We love these products and they’ve done a lot to open up the market. But at the end of the day, it’s about meeting consumer demands for more choice, healthier options and transparency in supply chains, ”the co-founders explain.

But why did they choose jackfruit from all the food choices available?

Young organic jackfruit karana
Image Credit: Karana

According to Karana, jackfruit was chosen because of its naturally meaty texture. Young jackfruits also have high nutritional content and fiber, are low in calories and cholesterol free, with a low glycemic index.

Unlike other vegetable meat producers, Karana’s processing methods do not contain concentrates or isolates.

Instead of using harsh chemicals or intensive processing, a mechanical process is used to “improve the texture of the naturally meat-like ingredient” while retaining its nutritional components, according to the co-founders.

Jackfruit is also very sustainable compared to commodity crops like soybeans, peas or wheat. The plant is grown in combination (mixed with other plants) and used to shade smaller, more delicate crops.

Jackfruit trees also grow for hundreds of years, producing tons of fruit and requiring minimal input or irrigation. This makes growing incredibly easy for small farmers.

Currently, over 60 percent of jackfruit production is wasted. However, Karana cuts down on waste by using all edible and compostable components, creating additional income streams for fathers.

Covid-19, a growth opportunity

The trend for meat substitutes is not new. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis, interest in food science has skyrocketed as supply lines around the world are threatened by social distancing measures.

karana plant-based pulled pork substitutes
Image Credit: Karana

Enterprise Singapore announced on June 26 that more than S $ 55 million had been earmarked for local agriculture and aquaculture businesses to “build new capacity and encourage growth.”

Recently, Karana raised her first seed funding of $ 1.7 million. The start-up has secured the support of Monde Nissin Corp, Big Idea Ventures and Germi8, among other angel investors.

Karana will use the funds to launch its first product line and accelerate its research and development (R&D) capabilities. The funds will also be used to build a regional food technology team.

The startup will launch its whole plant-based pork product with key restaurant partners in its first phase and develop a range of ready-to-cook products focused on dim sum. Karana’s partners remain unknown.

Blair and Dan assure the range will be expanded to include more products used in other Asian cultures and recipes. Karana products will be available in points of sale by 2021.

Revolutionizing the food industry

The founders of Karana remain cautiously optimistic.

“There is still a long way to go to educate consumers. Plus, we’ve seen big increases in meat consumption as countries get richer. “

“(But) with the increased awareness of health and wellness, we are starting to see a change in consumer behavior.”

karana plant-based pulled pork substitutes
Image Credit: Karana

Karana may be a for-profit company, but both Blair and Dan are committed to their mission of providing healthy and sustainable meat alternatives.

“Currently, we currently only consume 30 of the 150 species of edible plants, and 12 crops represent 75% of what we eat.”

“We want to be a leader in the next generation of herbal products, showing that we can use underrated and highly sustainable ingredients to make great products.

“We hope to make it easier for consumers to reduce their meat consumption and end the destruction of animal agriculture.”

Featured Image Credit: Brent Hofacker via Alamy Stock Photo / Karana

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