- The Fungi Protein Association is a new trade group for companies that harness fermentation of fungi for food. Founding members include Quorn, MycoTechnology, Nature’s Fynd, The Better Meat Co., Aqua Cultured Foods and the Good Food Institute.
- The association group will advocate for fungi protein, both to consumers and in public policy. It also will conduct consumer research about the space.
- Many companies creating meat and dairy substitutes using fungal fermentation are getting products to market after making strides in development and scaling.
Protein made through fungal fermentation has long been generically classified as “plant based,” even though that’s not actually what it is. For more than a decade, Quorn was the only brand of meat alternatives made from something other than plant proteins. It made more sense to shoehorn it into another category rather than create a new one.
Now, alternative proteins made through fungal fermentation are getting more popular. According to the Good Food Institute, in 2021 there were 43 companies worldwide using biomass fermentation — using fungus to create protein — for food.
New brands and products are joining Quorn in consumers’ freezers. Meati, which makes mycelium steaks and chicken cutlets, sells its products online and in some Sprouts Farmers Market locations. Nature’s Fynd, which gets its Fy protein from fermenting a fungus found in a volcanic spring at Yellowstone National Park, launched cream cheese made from Fy at all Sprouts Farmers Markets nationwide last month. MyForest Foods is rolling out its mycelium MyBacon to natural food stores in New York and Massachusetts, and is putting the finishing touches on a large mycelium production facility that can make up to 3 million pounds of MyBacon a year.
Leadership at companies that make fungi proteins have said they do not mind being categorized with plant-based foods. However, advocating for policies and regulations that specifically serve the methods used to create fungi proteins would be useful as more companies enter the space.
While they are alternatives to traditional meat and dairy, the way the protein and products are made is very different than plant-based alternatives. Fungal protein is grown through different fermentation methods, often in bioreactors. The protein itself usually is high in nutrients and amino acids, and can be used in a variety of different food items depending on water content and shape. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, undergo several processes to turn them into ingredients that can mimic meat.
Products made from fungal proteins are also often more clean label than their plant-based counterparts. The proteins don’t need much alteration or as many additional ingredients to behave like meat or dairy. And because the proteins usually have a good nutritional profile, there is less of a need to fortify them to get to be comparable to the meats and dairy they are replacing.
Also, as sales cool in the once hot plant-based meat space, burgeoning fungi protein startups might want to let consumers know their products are different. Analysts have said that consumer disappointment in the taste, performance and price of plant-based meat may be contributing to the sales slowdown. Fungi protein provides a different eating experience, one that consumers may miss if they think that the products are plant-based.