Fungi-based meat: harnessing Mycelium in Food Tech
Prime Roots bacon strips made from "Koji"
Quorn products, powered by Mycoprotein
A brief overview of mycelium
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of thread-like structures called hyphae. It is responsible for the absorption of nutrients and the growth of the fungus. In nature, it is found in the form of a mat-like structure in soil and on organic matter, it is responsible for breaking down and recycling nutrients in the ecosystem.
In the food industry, mycelium is being used as a source of plant-based protein, flavor and colorings and other ingredients, grown under controlled conditions using agricultural by-products, making it a sustainable and eco-friendly protein source. The mycelium can be processed to mimic the texture and taste of meat and can be used in a variety of dishes, it is considered as an alternative to traditional meat and also an alternative to soy and pea protein.
A little bit of history
The word "mycelium" is derived from the Greek word "mukes", which means "mushroom". It was first used in the mid-19th century by Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries to describe the vegetative part of a fungus, which is composed of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The term "mycelium" is used in modern biology to describe the vegetative growth of all fungi, regardless of whether they produce visible fruiting bodies (such as mushrooms) or not.
The term mycelium was chosen to name the vegetative growth of fungi as it is the part of the organism that is mostly underground, it's the root system of the fungus and it allows the fungus to absorb nutrients and spread out to colonize new environments, much like the root system of plants do.
Advantages of mycelium in the food industry
Mycelium has several advantages as a food source. First, it is a sustainable alternative to traditional meat production, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Mycelium can be grown with a fraction of the land, water, and energy resources required for traditional meat production.
Second, mycelium is a highly adaptable food source, it can be grown on a variety of organic substrates, making it accessible to many farmers and growers.
Third, mycelium can be used to produce a wide range of food products, from proteins, fibers, and starches, to flavorings, colorings, and even healthy ingredients such as vitamins and antioxidants.
Lastly, there are a few companies such as Prime Roots and Quorn that are showcasing that mycelium can be used to create products with realistic texture and taste, making it a promising alternative for consumers looking for plant-based options. Here are a few examples:
Meati produces a range of mycelium-based meat alternatives such as "chicken" and "beef" that mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat.
One company, Prime Roots, is using mycelium to produce a plant-based protein that mimics the taste and texture of seafood. This "koji" protein is made by growing the fungus on a bed of organic grains, and the end result is a product that is high in protein and can be used in various seafood dishes, such as crab cakes and sushi rolls.
MycoTech, on the other hand, has developed a range of ingredients, flavors and colorings using mycelium-based fermentation technology, they are developing ingredients and extracts that can replace animal-based ingredients in food and also ingredients with functional properties such as flavors and colorings.
A veteren in the space, Quorn, has been using mycelium as a base for their line of meat-free products. The mycelium is grown on a substrate of corn and then processed to create a variety of products such as "chicken" nuggets and "beef" crumbles that are high in protein and have a texture similar to meat.
Kinoko Tech is an Israeli company in the food-tech industry that is using mycelium to produce a fungi-based protein alternative to meat. The company uses a proprietary process to grow mycelium on agricultural waste, making it a sustainable and environmentally friendly protein source.
Kinoko Tech's protein product is said to have a texture similar to meat and can be used in a variety of dishes such as burgers and meatballs. The company aims to address the environmental and ethical concerns of traditional meat production, and to provide a delicious, healthy, and sustainable alternative for consumers.
They have got attention for their sustainable production process and it's use of agricultural waste and have been featured in several food tech publications, showcasing that the company is gaining recognition in the field.
Current issues with mycelium as a meat alternative
While mycelium has many advantages as a food source, there are also some issues that need to be addressed in order for it to be widely adopted in the food tech industry.
One of the main challenges is the cost of production. Mycelium-based products are still more expensive to produce than traditional meat and plant-based alternatives. This high cost is due to the current complexity of the production process and the scale of production, which is still relatively small.
Another challenge is the lack of standardization and regulation surrounding mycelium-based products. This can create confusion and uncertainty for consumers, and make it harder for mycelium-based products to gain acceptance in the market.
Also, there is still limited knowledge and understanding of the nutritional properties of mycelium-based products, this can make it hard to formulating and labelling them, it will be important to establish the nutritional and safety standards for mycelium-based products.
In addition, the taste, texture, and appearance of mycelium-based products may not be familiar to most consumers and therefore it may not be accepted as easily as other plant-based or traditional meat options.
However, it's important to note that research and development are ongoing, and some of these challenges may be overcome in the near future. Companies and researchers continue to work on improving mycelium as a food source, and as the technology develops and becomes more efficient, it is likely that the issues surrounding mycelium-based products will be addressed, leading to wider adoption and acceptance of this promising alternative.
In conclusion, mycelium has a lot of potential in food tech as a sustainable, adaptable, and versatile food source. As more companies like Prime Roots and Quorn continue to innovate with mycelium, we can expect to see even more delicious and sustainable food options becoming available in the near future.