Mudlrk, part of the flyGREEN in-flight snack company, plans to debut four varieties of shittake mushroom chips by the end of this month. The four flavors — original, spicy buffalo, honey onion mustard and black pepper — will first be sold online and then in stores later this year, according to Food Navigator.
Instead of air-drying or freeze-drying the product, Food Navigator noted that Mudlrk takes whole shiitake mushrooms from China and vacuum-fries them in palm oil before adding seasonings.
"Vacuum frying is conducted inside of a closed environment where the oxygen level is lowered and therefore the boiling point for the oil is lowered, and therefore your frying time can be lessened – ultimately it gives you the crunch of the chip," Trace Ostergren, the company's founder, told Food Navigator.
Mushroom chips are not a new concept for the snack segment, though Mudlrk's use of whole, vacuum-fried shiitake mushrooms could help the brand stand out. The company has also developed special packaging using compostable materials, which should help maintain the crispness and appeal to consumers looking for healthier snacks with a smaller environmental footprint.
With their healthful image, mushrooms are a smart choice for chips, especially crisp and flavorful ones that come in on-trend flavors. Those two aspects are likely to mitigate any potential ick factor, and the worldwide popularity of mushrooms is another asset. According to statistics reported by Food Navigator, the global mushroom market is projected to more than double from $34.1 billion in 2015 to $69.4 billion by 2024.
Besides their adaptability to different dishes and flavors, mushrooms are considered a superfood because of their nutrient profile. They contain the soluble fiber beta glucan, which scientists say can help bolster the immune system. They have virtually no fat or cholesterol and contain B vitamins, as well as selenium and potassium. As an example of the shiitake's potential, Kellogg last fall invested through its VC arm in MycoTechnology, a Colorado firm making vegan mushroom-based protein.
Vegetable-based chips have also become a booming area in the snack segment, with food companies positioning themselves to benefit from the trend. General Mill's VC arm, 301 INC, invested in Rhythm Superfoods, which has found success through its kale, beet and broccoli chips. In March, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division introduced its Off the Eaten Path line of better-for-you snack chips containing rice, black beans, chickpeas and other less-processed ingredients. PepsiCo plans to add to its snacking portfolio by buying Bare Foods, a maker of baked fruit and vegetable snacks.
Snacks, particularly healthy ones, continue to be wildly popular. According to Nielsen, individual snacking sales were up to $33 billion last year, which was a $133 million jump from 2016. Those products with non-GMO ingredients have grown the most during the past five years, followed by those without artificial colors of flavors and no, or reduced, sugar. The most popular options seem to those offering whole grains, vegetables, protein and fiber, plus less salt and saturated fat.
Mushrooms may not be as sought after in chips as whole grains, legumes or vegetables, but the vacuum-frying process and added seasonings could make a difference to consumers who like a crunchy and flavorful chip. After Mudlrk debuts its shiitake mushroom chips online this month, it will be interesting to see how they do in stores. According to the company's founder, he's seen interest from c-stores, mom-and-pop operations, regional grocery chains, restaurants and non-grocery retailers. If the items do well, they could break out of niche grocery realms and make it to the mainstream.