In an effort to renew alternatives to meat in the wake of collapsing shares and sales of veggie meat and their companies, one man was looking at mycelium—the fibrous root structure of a lifeform much more similar to beef than soy: mushrooms.
In fact, of the 5 classic taste profiles, umami has really only 2 members—meat, and mushrooms, so making the first from the second is only logical.
That’s why Meati is using its nationwide distribution deal with Sprouts grocery store to market mycelium steaks, burgers, and more.
The mycelium is the part of the mushroom we have never seen, and is composed of thousands of tiny filaments. It’s cultivated in big steel tanks of sugar, water, and heat at the 125,000 square foot “Mega Ranch” in Meati Founder Thomas Huggins’ home state of Montana
“My point of view? We need more diversity in our food system, not less,” Huggins told Fast Company Magazine. “More resilience, more options that resonate with people that are really enjoyable.”
There are a lot of reasons why using fungi as a sustainable food option is much better than soy, corn or any other meat alternative. These monocrops come from highly genetically-modified seed stock and need to be kept alive with millions of acres of prime farmland, billions of gallons of water, hundreds of thousands of gallons of pesticides and herbicides, and millions of pounds of ammonium-nitrate fertilizers— the epitome of unsustainability.
By contrast not one inch of farmland needs to be used to cultivate mycelium, which is typically grown on sawdust and other waste wood products, (although Meati uses other starters like sugar).
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Products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are what the Harvard School of Medicine defines as “ultra-processed foods,” meaning an edible product that is removed many times from its natural state. Most veggie meats are actually composed mainly of ultra-processed seed oils and other fillers rather than vegetables in order to keep costs down and improve shelf life.
This means their nutritional profile is principally highly inflammatory and oxidized polyunsaturated fats, not to be confused with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
By contrast mycelium meat would be composed mostly of fiber, provided there aren’t too many additives, while still containing that umami flavor that makes grilled mushrooms and steak so similar in taste.
On the subject of taste, Huggins describes a story of showing up at Sprouts headquarters for a tasting and the investors “were kind of rolling their eyes”.
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“’Oh, another plant-based product,’” he said jokingly. “It wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. But then they took their first bite, looked at each other, and grabbed another cut. In an instant, it became: ‘who else are you talking to? Can we be first?’”
Unlike the CEOs of Impossible Foods and Beyond Foods, Huggins is a meat eater who enjoys bow hunting, and his parents run a bison and elk meat company in Montana. He is looking for something to produce that consumers can really sink their teeth into and be satisfied, along with trying to help reduce emissions from the food system.
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