The way of the watermelon

The fruit has emerged as something of a hot ingredient among Veganuary launches and further afield.

8 January 2020
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There was something of a vegan fast food boom last week. Quorn emerged as a major player, with both Greggs and KFC opting for the meat-free company’s patented mycoprotein for their main ingredient. Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, meanwhile, both entered into the Veganuary face off with pea-protein-based options.

This week, it’s the turn of the restaurant chains, with watermelon emerging as the go-to meat alternative for two of the UK’s most popular.

The fish

Late last week, Wagamama (who’ve had a pretty busy winter season, what with the launch of their Mamago sister concept in November) launched a vegan ‘tuna’ made from dehydrated watermelon.

Wagamama executive chef Steve Mangleshot said that to make the ‘tuna,’ watermelon is sliced and then put in brine with salt to take out some of the fruit’s water content and to “balance the sugars and help with flavour.”

“We then cook the steak sous vide style in a water bath in order to soften the watermelon and give it that tuna texture which is very important because the texture is the winner for the dish,” he added. “Once they are cooked the steaks are cooled to keep its tuna-like texture. They are then quickly seared on both sides to caramelise the steak, and then finished with a silky miso and sesame dressing which just elevates the flavours and whole experience.”

The finished product is served on a bed of white rice, soy seasoning, radish, kale and tenderstem broccoli, as well as “a bit of chilli for added kick.”

According to Wagamama, while the look and texture is similar to tuna sashimi, the flavour remains reminiscent of watermelon, with the dish set to stay on the menu beyond January if it proves popular.

The steak

Hot on the heels of this experiment, TGI Fridays have launched a limited-edition watermelon steak made by chargrilling slices of the fruit before marinating them in spices and seasoning them with sriracha and garlic.

The steak is served with a vegan avocado sauce, Fridays’ Jack Daniels glaze (also vegan), fries and roasted vegetables.

“We came up with the vegan steak to give our guests the same great taste from our grills but in a different way,” said Terry McDowell, TGI Fridays’ head development chef.

“Seasoning with sriracha and garlic gives the dish savoury, sweet and spicy notes, with a juicy centre that cuts and eats like a juicy sirloin steak.”

McDowell says that the dish aims to change diners’ perception of watermelon being a sweet ingredient. 

The butter

Ingredients supplier Prinova have released a range of vegan proteins designed to tackle the issue of mouthfeel and texture in plant-based products, with a watermelon seed protein one of the four launch Smooth Proteins.

Said to specifically improve the mouthfeel of pea protein, the watermelon seed protein was showcased at the recent FIE Europe in Paris and is expected to launch in Europe at the end of Q1 2020.

Watermelon seeds have also cropped up recently as part of a potential nut butter trend, with Whole Foods Market mentioning the possibility in their recent 2020 global food trends release.


Sparkie says…

Watermelon seems like an odd choice for the tuna. The initial concept was doing the rounds on social media quite a while ago, but it used vacuum-compressed tomato because the texture is similar and it still provides an interesting savoury flavour. 

From what I have read, watermelon seed butters are as healthy as the current range of nut/seed butters. It would play into consumer curiosity well enough as that market hasn’t really moved since their initial introduction so it could do well if the quality is there.

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