Green is Good: The Future of Vegan Pizza in 8 Trends by 2030
The days of vegan alternatives belonging to a niche market are behind us. As demand for plant-based ingredients continues to grow, the pizza world is adapting fast. From pure meat-analogs to reimagining the role of vegetables, pizza creators are looking at ways to better serve a flourishing plant-focused market, while drawing inspiration from other food cultures and cuisines on how to evolve away from meat and dairy. Consumers also want more dietary and nutritional benefits from their pizzas. The results, thus far, have been deliciously creative.
Veganism Moves into the Mainstream:
Craft pizzerias are leading the vegan charge, normalising and celebrating plant-based menus. Once a specialty, it’s become standard practice to have vegan options at restaurants and pizzerias, while fast-casual chains are increasingly providing plant-based options. People avoiding meat are also seeing more heat-to-eat pies in supermarkets and online. Vegan pizzas have never been more affordable and accessible.
One craft pizzeria in Chicago, Dimo’s, sources seitan-based chicken, sausage and chorizo alternatives from plant-based innovators, Upton’s Naturals, for its legendary pies. California’s Secret Vegan Pizza makes everything from dough to plant-based proteins in-house, and their pizzas (made entirely from scratch) are popping up in cities all over the state. It’s also the first of its kind in Orange County to offer vegan pizza by the slice.
Mainstream players like Pizza Hut are also getting in on the action, partnering with meat-alternative producer Beyond Meat to test its popularity in limited runs in locations across the globe. Although not currently available in the US, the pizza chain has made Beyond Meat’s Italian Sausage Crumbles a permanent part of the menu in stores in Canada and throughout Veganuary, Domino’s Pizza added the Vegan PepperoNAY to its vegan menu in the UK.
Supermarket pizza aisles are also getting the plant-based treatment. Nestlé SA’s Sweet Earth Planet Pepperoni and Tuscan Savoury Grounds top not only its own-brand frozen pizzas but also DiGiorno and California Pizza Kitchen’s heat-and-eat offerings in the US. UK-based One Planet Pizza, meanwhile, has a selection of meat-free (as well as gluten-free) pizzas online and at various retailers, including the Epic Cheezeburger, Peppernomi and Hawaiian, while also offering a monthly delivery subscription for its frozen pizzas. Toronto’s premium frozen pizza delivery service General Assembly includes a vegan option in the form of a Green Margherita.
East Meets West:
Culinary traditions, styles, ingredients and flavours from Korea and Japan are mixing with classic Italian and American pizzas, resulting in bold new offerings suited to vegans. And while some of these examples do have cheese, more and more pizzaiolos are adapting to meet the needs of plant-forward diners. Most Western diners were unfamiliar with Korean cuisine until fairly recently, but it has rocketed to the mainstream, and its culinary impact is impacting the world of pizza. Likewise, American regional pizza styles are traveling around the world. Motor City has been serving a Korean take on Detroit-style pizza in Seoul since 2016, and more recently in New York City's East Village, the menu at a new "Korean Pizza Parlor" Appas Pizza features toppings like gochujang powder.
Wafu (meaning “Japanese-style”) Italian food has been an established cuisine in Japan for some time, but it’s increasingly going global. Pizza, of course, is a big part of it. The proof is in the dough at LA-based Pizzeria Sei, whose Neapolitan-style pizzas are given an umami boost from Japanese cedar sugi chip smoke, while a pinching technique gives it a texture similar to mochi, a soft and chewy treat made from glutinous rice. And at Washington, D.C. restaurant Tonari, chef Katsuya Fukushima uses shiitake mushrooms, yuzu kosho (a Japanese condiment made from fresh chiles fermented with salt and the zest and juice of yuzu, a tart and citrus fruit) and ichimi, a spicy red chili pepper seasoning.
Last but not least, in Hong Kong, Pop Vegan’s Wafu Mushroom Pizza takes its influence from the savoury pancake dish okonomiyaki, and it’s topped with coriander, fennel, miso, seaweed, sesame and shredded cabbage.
Umami, the feeling of savouriness, is one of the five primary tastes. Many people believe that it’s a taste that’s difficult to capture with vegan or meat-free recipes and products. In order to prove those people wrong, innovative chefs are playing with koji–a fungus made by inoculating rice and barley with the strain of aspergillus oryzae–to help break down the proteins, fats and sugars. The resulting flavour is rich in umami profiles that you’ll find in miso paste, soy sauce and sake. They can also tweak the flavours by using different grain variants that produce floral notes, cheesiness and other interesting combinations.
One example of a creative use of koji is Brighton, England-based producer Koji Kins’ Original Aged Tonic, which can be used as a dip, marinade or cure. They also have morel and shiitake varieties, as well as a spreadable kojimite.
Berkeley, CA-based Prime Roots, meanwhile, uses koji for the foundation of its range of plant-based meats including ham, turkey, and pizzeria-style pepperoni. The company credits koji's rich umami profile as one of the key factors in helping to emulate meat. They also note that most plant-based proteins (such as pea, gluten and soy) have to be heavily processed.
Making Meatless Strides:
People choosing a vegan diet have a far greater variety of animal-free meat alternatives than ever before. Thanks to advancing technology, plant-based cuisine innovators can look past soy (a typical base for meat alternatives) in order to develop products for people who want healthier options, fewer byproducts and fewer allergens.
As processed pizza toppings like vegan pepperoni and sausage crumbles make their way into the mainstream, the plant-based meat market is evolving fast. Paris-based Umiami uses proprietary technology to create filets that mimic the texture and fibrousness of whole cuts for a more satisfying and tasty bite. They want to move past the old-school minced and pre-breaded vegan products in order to reach vegans who miss the sensorial experience of meat.
Like Berkeley’s Prime Roots, others are increasingly turning to non-meat natural ingredients like seaweed, jackfruit and mycelium (the meaty, root-like structure of fungi, also used in koji). Scientists are using mycelium to create mycoprotein, which has a more convincing meat-like texture, profile and offers much lower environmental impact. US brand MyForest Foods makes whole-cut MyBacon from mushroom mycelium, while Umaro's plant-based bacon is derived from red seaweed.
Meanwhile, Chicago brand Upton’s Naturals has expanded beyond its range of wheat-based seitan – used to create everything from chicken to chorizo analogs favored by Dimo’s. Upton’s also now offers a range of seasoned and ready-to-eat jackfruit products, including shredded and BBQ-flavored options.
Meat alternatives have been around for a while now, but seafood is catching up as companies continue to innovate and create diverse plant-based fish and shellfish. That’s great news for pizza makers.
US-based Good Catch offers salmon burgers, fish sticks, crab cakes and more. Nestlé’s Sensational Vuna makes flaky, plant-based tuna. In Germany, Berlin-based BettaF!sh launched a frozen TU-NAH pizza line for ALDI in Switzerland that features a plant-based tuna made from legumes and seaweed from Norway and Ireland.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s all-female, family-owned Plant Based Seafood Co. offers Mind Blown Dusted Scallops and Mind Blown Coconut Shrimp, among other products. These award-winning products use ingredients like konjac (a root vegetable) and vegetable root starch, and deliver only 80 calories per serving.
Also expanding the range of vegan seafood toppings is California-based New Wave Foods is also expanding their range of vegan seafood. Their New Wave Shrimp uses sustainably sourced seaweed and plant protein, namely mung beans.
Innovators are also exploring previously unconsidered plants to help mimic the unique texture of fish. Upton’s Naturals has launched a product that emulates the flakiness of fish using banana blossom. Not only does it convincingly replicate the texture of fish, it’s also organic and soy- and gluten- free.
More (Vegan) Cheese, Please:
Cheese is an integral ingredient in the pizza experience. Plant-based cheese has been around for years, but recreating the complex, unique and textures of diverse cheeses styles has been elusive. That’s quickly changing. Vegans no longer have to make do with rubbery, tasteless imitations and synthetic slices. There are plant-based cheeses on the market today that really can stand toe-to-toe with their dairy counterparts.
Coconut-oil is a very common ingredient in plant-based cheeses, and it’s quickly growing in accessibility and popularity. Greek producer Violife’s range of coconut-oil-based vegan cheeses now include pizza-friendly cheddar and colby jack shreds, as well as a mozzarella favoured by Brooklyn’s vegan Screamer’s Pizzeria for its popular Screamer Pizza.
Miyoko’s Creamery developed a pourable mozzarella specifically with pizza in mind. It melts and bubbles just like its cow-based counterpart. . Also going for the melt-factor is New York-based Pleese Cheese. Its gluten- and allergen-free uses bean and potato proteins.
Looking ahead, Israel’s Remilk and California-based New Culture are replicating casein, the protein that gives animal cheese its unique stretchy texture. They use microbial fermentation, a process comparable to beer brewing, to create planet friendly animal- and lactose-free mozzarella. New Culture is slated to hit US pizzerias by 2024.
Pizza enthusiasts are putting more emphasis on vegetables. Once relegated to add-on status, top chefs are turning them into the stars of the show.
New York’s Michelin-starred chef Matthew Kenney’s plant-based pizza concept restaurant Double Zero reimagines traditional vegetable staples to top its pizzas. Options include artichoke and caramelised onion, cauliflower and shiitake bacon. The restaurant is also enhancing its pies with interesting ingredients like fennel pollen and rice mozzarella.
Kenney’s Mudrá restaurant concept has several locations across Argentina, and they have elevated the tomato with a version that is confited with aromatic herbs Another pizza is topped with crispy tempura portobello.
LA-based Brandoni Pepperoni tops its Steady Mobbin pizza with a multicolored selection of basil leaves, roasted Coleman Farm broccolini and broccolini flowers for a visual flourish. These aren’t just for the aesthetics. They add extra flavour dimensions for more curious vegan palates.
Plant-based innovators aren’t forgetting about doughs and pizza bases. Ancient grains and vegetables are taking over, and new dough recipes are providing an exciting foundation for vegan pizza-lovers. The shift is also providing more choice for those with dietary requirements or gluten allergies, while creating novel and alluring styles.
Cauliflower crusts have become a standard part of the gluten-free or alternative-pizza base market over the last few years, and California-based producer Real Good Foods joined forces with Beyond Meat for its Grain Free sausage pizza. The sausage alternative tops chickpea-based frozen pies available from Detroit’s Banza, which also offers premade chickpea plain crust pizza bases for home chefs to top. Meanwhile, the legume is the champion for Minnesota-based The Amazing Chickpea Classic Pizza Crust Mix.
New veggies are cropping up as an alternative to cauliflower bases. Sweet Earth, for example, uses ancient grains, psyllium, and other plant products like rosemary and carrot for its bases. New York-based food service provider Delorio’s has expanded its range of pizza shells using broccoli, as well as plans to include chickpea and sweet potato. They want to help their customers better tailor their menus for people with dietary requirements, including nut and dairy free, as well low carb, gluten-free and keto options.
Taking it a step even further, Canada’s Wisely upcycles ingredients to reduce food waste. Not to be mistaken with okra, okara, or soy pulp, is a byproduct of tofu production and Wisely is using it as an alternative and more sustainable ingredient for pizza dough. Wisely currently offers two vegan pizzas using okara, one topped with meatless pepperoni-flavored pieces and one with maple wood hot smoked tofu.
With so many innovators, game changers and alternatives out there (and more to be discovered) it’s safe to say that the future of vegan pizza is not only looking bright, but also, delicious.