Jackfruit is the plant-based protein of choice for Singaporean start-up as global demand for meat alternatives continues to rise
- Karana has partnered with two of Hong Kong’s best known chefs, Shane Osborn of Arcane and Manav Tuli of Chaat, to introduce its brand to local diners
- Its whole plant meat shreds and mince are easy for professional chefs and home cooks to use, and Karana expects to launch retail sales later this year
Karana, a Singapore-based food start-up, is feeding the ever-increasing demand for plant-based proteins with a product that uses the tropical jackfruit.
It has partnered with two of Hong Kong’s best known chefs to introduce its brand to city diners; it expects to have products available for Hong Kong home cooks by the end of the year.
Crichton and Karana co-founder Dan Riegler chose to focus on jackfruit because of its taste and its sustainability. Jackfruit trees are usually grown to provide shade for tea and spice plants, and their fruit remains underused.
“It’s actually the highest yielding tree fruit in the world, so there’s an abundance of it,” says Crichton. “It’s grown naturally and doesn’t need pesticides. Currently, 60 per cent of the world’s jackfruit crop goes to waste – there’s a lot of it but not enough demand, so we’re trying to address that issue and take some of that, and give some income streams to small farmers we work with and promote biodiversity.”
Karana harvests the jackfruit before they ripen. Everything inside is used once the outer layer is removed, even the soft seeds and fibrous interior – which has the texture of pulled pork. Karana’s products work as filling in bao (steamed buns), in stir-fries or minced in dumplings.
Karana’s products are versatile and easy for home cooks and chefs to use. For the Singapore launch, they were used with mushrooms in potstickers at fusion restaurant Butcher Boy, in a sloppy joe at bar Jomo, and in a jackfruit rillette at French restaurant Atout.
“I did some trials with Impossible, Beyond and Karana,” Tuli says. “The way we cook Indian food, I found with Impossible that it had a slightly bitter taste. But with Karana, I cooked it the same way and it was fine.
Tuli says all his guests at Chaat love lamb samosas and, to begin with, he will only serve Karana’s jackfruit-based samosas to his regulars. He won’t tell them what’s in the samosas until after they have eaten, to gauge their reaction.
“I did a trial in-house and the staff all wondered why I was serving this to them. They asked if I changed the spice or the meat. They said, ‘We like it but there’s something different’ and they couldn’t say exactly what.”
Crichton became a vegan in 2016 after watching Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a 2014 documentary. He left a career at HSBC, an Asian-focused bank, to go to business school in the United States, and promised himself that he would work on climate change after graduation. While studying, he worked for Impossible Foods in strategy and business development, and on its expansion to Asia.
“It’s successful and they have a fantastic product, but at the back of my mind I was thinking [that] in Asia we eat pork and chicken; really there is a lot of opportunity to do something more localised,” he recalls. “At that time, there wasn’t really anything yet, Omnipork hadn’t started and so it was something that was there, fermenting in my brain.”
In 2018, Crichton met Riegler at a conference in the US. Riegler had already started Karana and was looking for a co-founder for the start-up.