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A mutual love for plant-based cuisine

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin7/19/2022 09:32 AM GMT+08  • 7 min read
A mutual love for plant-based cuisine
Husband-wife founders of Green Rebel, Max Mandias and Helga Tjahjadi, share why their meat alternative brand complements Southeast Asian cooking
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Indonesia’s leading alternative protein start-up, Green Rebel, has been spicing up Singapore kitchens since it hit our shores in April, offering a wide assortment of plant-based categories for flexitarians in search of more Asian flavours.

Unlike better-known brands like Tindle, OmniMeat, Quorn, Huera, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, Green Rebel’s products are authentically Asian in format, texture and flavour selections using a proprietary technology called Rebel Max.

The start-up was launched in Indonesia in 2020 under the Burgreens Group — one of Indonesia’s largest leading plant-based eatery chains. Green Rebel combines culinary expertise, nutrition know-how and food technology to create an exciting range of signature Indonesian and Asian flavours that appeal to palates in this part of the world. Currently, the brand is available in over 800 F&B establishments in Indonesia including Starbucks, Ikea and Dominos, and more than 100 retailers nationwide.

‘Beef’ Rendang Spaghetti Alfredo​ from Privé

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Philly Cheesesteak from Love Handle

For its Singapore launch, Green Rebel has partnered with popular restaurants like Privé, Love Handle, Dragon Chamber and Empress to offer diners here delicious renditions of popular dishes. Green Rebel uses its products such as the bestselling Beefless Rendang and innovative Beefless Steak, as well as Beefless Chunks, Chick’n Fillet and Chick’n Karaage. It will be distributed exclusively by leading food solutions provider, Indoguna Singapore across the city’s F&B scene, and in the months ahead, retail packs meant for home cooking will be launched for consumers.

The young married couple behind Green Rebel — chief innovation officer Max Mandias and chief executive officer Helga Tjahjadi. In an exclusive interview with Options, they share how their natural affinity for eating green turned into a personal mission to democratise plant-based food by making it affordable and accessible for people who are keen to adopt a more sustainable way of life.

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Why and how did both of you become vegan?

Max: I lived in the Netherlands for seven years and worked at a raw food restaurant in my last year. I saw how visitors gained many health benefits by simply improving the quality of their food intake. In 2013, Helga and I gave up dairy when we learnt the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet and eventually became vegans.

Helga: I became a vegetarian when I was 15 to address my autoimmune disease and I gradually healed within two years after changing my diet. I moved to the Netherlands in 2006 to complete my undergraduate studies and it was around 2010 when I met and fell in love with Max, who was a fellow Indonesian vegetarian!

What prompted you to start Green Rebel, especially at the height of a pandemic?

Max: Helga and I returned to Indonesia in 2013 to launch Burgreens — the largest plant-based restaurant chain in Indonesia today — using my plant-based recipes developed in Amsterdam. When Covid-19 hit in 2020, we pivoted to turn our bestsellers into frozen food to keep our business going. We discovered that demand for plant-based meat was gaining momentum, alongside a demand for delicious, easy-to-prepare plant-based meat alternatives for home meals.

Helga: After a successful pilot, we launched the meat alternatives (both the base meats and flavoured meats) under the Green Rebel brand in September 2020 with a commitment to make plant-based meat delicious, affordable and accessible, while minimising any impact on the environment and empowering local farmers in Indonesia.

How do Green Rebel's alternative proteins differ from other plant-based brands?

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Helga: We currently offer four product categories — beef, chicken, wholefoods and cheese — with 14 products that cater to the Southeast Asian palate. They are all halal-certified and authentically Asian in format, texture, and flavour selections like rendang, katsu, karaage, beef and chicken satay. Designed for busy people, our products like the Beefless Rendang and Chick’n Satay can be heated up in under 10 minutes.

Our products are derived from natural plant-based ingredients and have no added MSG, preservatives or refined sugar. Whole foods such as mushroom and non-GMO soy are combined with minimally processed and wholegrain cassava flour, rice flour and whole oats to create Green Rebel’s nutrition-packed base protein. Natural spices and herbs like lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, coriander, tamarind and chilli not only impart flavour but also umami that is integral to our taste buds — thus eliminating the need for added salt or MSG.

Sweet & Sour Green Rebel ‘Pork’ from Empress

What are some of your bestsellers?

Our popular Southeast Asian fare includes Beefless Rendang, Meatless Chicken and Beefless Satay, as well as Plant-based Whole-cut steak — the first product of its kind offered by an Asian company. Some chefs in Singapore use our Chick’n Chunks to mimic lean pork in Chinese cuisines such as sweet and sour pork.

What is the proprietary technology used to create the real feel of meat?
Part of the meat-eating experience is the mouthfeel of meat. Our proprietary tech, Rebel Max, manages to recreate this through a set of unique processes that successfully mimic the experience of eating whole-cut meat.

Rebel Max emulsion is our proprietary formulation of coconut oil, water and natural vegan seasoning — created through emulsion technology — that acts as an animal fat replacement to achieve the distinctive taste, aroma and juiciness one associates with animal protein.

Rebel Max texturisation is a novel process innovation that enables us to create the fibrous meat textures that you see in our Beefless & Chick’n alternatives. Thanks to this technology, Green Rebel products can be marinated and absorb deep flavours typical in Asian cuisine. It took us a great number of trials over two years to come up with the products we like.

Innovation is at the heart of what we do so we are always in R&D mode and constantly developing relevant taste experiences and textures for different countries’ palates, as well as continually improving the nutrition profile of our existing products. Our products are also stress-tested for the high moisture cooking typical of Southeast Asian and Asian cuisine, such as steamboat, hotpot and stir-fry with sauce. They taste really good without the need for deep frying.

What are Green Rebel's plans for the coming year — both in Singapore and abroad?

Helga: Singapore is the gateway to Southeast Asia, the region and the rest of the world, which is why Singapore is the first country outside of Indonesia that Green Rebel is expanding into. We will launch in Malaysia and the Philippines in 2Q2022 and in South Korea and Australia by the end of the year.

The expansion was made possible through an oversubscribed US$7 million ($9.84 million) pre-A round to fuel our regional/Asia Pacific expansion. Investors include major venture capitalist companies, food conglomerates like CP Group in South Korea, as well as Netflix’s Bling Empire star, Kane Lim, who is himself a vegan. Over the next three to five years, we hope to cover 15 more countries in the Asia Pacific, Middle East, US and Europe.

Max: We want to offer whole-cut plant-based meat alternatives for the Southeast Asian consumer in search of a healthier flexitarian diet. In recent years, people are more health-conscious and open to trying plant-based meat. Our goal with Green Rebel is to get more meat lovers to be open to the possibility of eating plant-based food more often, without feeling like they are missing anything. The flavour profiles of Green Rebel products are really close to the food they are used to here in Asia. You have to try it to believe it!

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