Why the future of alternative protein is fermented fungi

16 Mar 2022

Fungi fermentation has stepped into the ring in a big way in recent years, and the number of companies that are looking to mycoprotein as a method to manufacture plant-based alternatives has proliferated.

Alternative protein options abound in today’s market. However, not all options are created equal, and one of the oldest methods of recreating a meat-like texture is resurfacing as a front-runner positioned to revolutionize plant-based protein. Not only is mycoprotein high in dietary fibre, low in fat and full of riboflavin, folate, phosphorus, zinc, choline and manganese, but it is also a highly versatile ingredient.

Why the future of alternative protein is fermented fungi

Major manufacturers rethink mycoprotein

Ingredients supplier Novozymes has recently pushed manufacturers to rethink their plant-based protein sources and consider fungi as a means to produce sustainable protein. In an open call last autumn, the company announced its a global platform “to cultivate new business collaborations that scale up the most promising innovations and ideas around how to use fungi as a source of protein.”

Similarly, Unilever announced a new partnership with the European food tech company Enough, which uses a zero-waste fermentation process to produce mycoprotein. Alternative protein startup The Better Meat Co. announced last year that it would open its own mycoprotein fermentation plant at the same time that it unveiled a line of mycoprotein meat analogue ingredients. US-based Meati also works with mycelium as a protein alternative, but unlike some of its competitors, the fermented fungi form the bulk of its products. Estonian alternative protein company Meet Future is using the ingredient to develop whole cut seafood analogues with limited ingredient lists.    

“We want to rethink and advance protein to find innovative ways to help feed the world sustainably,” Amy Louise Byrick, executive vice president of strategy and business transformation at Novozymes said in a statement.

The use of fungi as a protein substitute is not a new idea. In 1985, British manufacturer Quorn became a pioneer in the space when it introduced fermented mycoprotein as a vegetarian meat solution and has quietly but successfully continued to produce its recipe over the years.

Fungi furnish environmental stability

The versatility of this fungi ingredient is not the only reason that mycoprotein is well-positioned in the market for future growth. Its production is also far less taxing on the environment. Producing Enough’s flagship mycelium product Abunda uses 97% less feed, 93% less water and 97% lower CO₂ emissions than beef, according to the company.

“Producing vast quantities of healthy and sustainable protein is one of the most urgent global priorities,” said Andrew Beasley, commercial director of Enough. According to the United Nations Climate and Clean Air Coalition report, human-caused methane emissions from agriculture now stand at 42% of total emissions.

Indeed, the United Nations says about two-thirds of food system emissions come from agriculture, land use and changes in land use. In the US, data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed that agriculture accounted for 10% of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

The continued pressure on the environment from industrial agriculture has pushed consumers to demand more sustainable alternatives from companies, and manufacturers are responding. Research from Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corporation cited by Unilever indicate that Europe and North America will reach “peak meat” by 2025. Following that benchmark, the consumption of conventional meat will fall and there will be “realistic alternatives” for nine out of ten of the world’s favourite dishes. In conjunction with this evolution, the global meat-free sector is expected to hit $290 billion (€264.8 billion) in 2035.

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