A startup based in Colorado is making an entry into the world of alternative meat – but they are doing it in a different way. In the past, there have been many companies that have developed alternative meat using plant-based products. There has been ‘Beyond Beef’ and ‘Impossible Burger’ produced a long time ago. Emergy Foods has developed a new brand which they called Meati Foods. Unlike the other two plant-based types of meat – Meati Foods provide fungi-based steaks.
Steak is one of the most-loved meaty magic that many people love. But it’s very hard to replicate the juiciness and the texture of steak. With plant-based meat products, you get grounded or minced fake meat which can be developed into sausages (example, Quorn). These products cannot be made into the muscle-based texture of a steak. Emergy, on the other hand, is trying to get that texture in their meat products.
Emergy was founded by two Ph.D. students coming from the University of Colorado – Tyler Higgins, an environmental engineer, and Justin Whiteley who is a mechanical engineer focusing on materials science. They have written dozens of articles about the environment and how small things impact it. They have also talked about renewable lithium batteries, water- filtration systems based on charcoal, and the bioremediation of fungi in polluted areas. But when they saw that the US population is slowly growing satisfied with meat alternatives with a 10% rise in people consuming such products from 2018, they were excited. They go 4.8 billion dollars in venture capital and started this revolutionary company.
The company does advertise itself as a company, which produces steak-like cuts of plant-based meat, though fungi cannot be referred to as a plant. While there are small amounts of plant-based ingredients in the mix, the entire recipe is mostly based on filamentous fungi. These organisms multiply and grow to form thread-like structures called mycelium. Emergy products are thus developed in a lab-like setting and not an agricultural setting. Generally, most plant-based products require a high amount of water, fertilizers, and a lot of land. Hence, in the end, the product remains quite non-sustainable. However, when it comes to Emergy, the products are highly sustainable.
Fungi is an organism that has its own digestive system. There is a reason why fungi have often been used in many Asian countries, like in Japan, where it is used to develop sake. Chinese cuisine has also used fungi to give plant products a meaty taste. However, the distinction with these fermentation processes and Emergy Meati Foods is that Emergy is using fungi as an end product. This is a feat that has not been used by anyone before.
Generally, people like the taste of steak because of the bone, muscle, and taste – all due to animal cells. But animal cells just replicate – it is not possible to make a steak-like product with it. However, fungi have a digestive system that helps it to break down food and use the protein from the food to gain more protein. Emergy uses sugar water to develop mycelium. One of the founders of Emergy, Tyler Higgins mentions that in the future, they could use the sugary wastes from different food factories, like beer, to enlarge their mycelium stock. Overall, it’s a win-win situation – wastes are being recycled and you are getting meat out of it.
An educator on sustainable food products, Nicole Civita, mentions that this thing may not be a possibility since the sugar water from beer factories may not be of the same quality as the mycelium that Meati Food requires. Plus, most beer absorbs all the sugar from the grains, therefore leading to a lack of sugar in the waste. However, Brewing Association has stated that waste-water from breweries does have sugar though it may not be as consistent as Emergy hopes for.
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It is obvious that Meati Food is going to revolutionize the alternative meat market. Most fake meat products failed to get the shape and consistency which Meati Foods, with its naturally grown mycelium, has been able to achieve. According to Higgins, it took them about 2 years to get that muscle structure. There is one weakness though – taste. Mycelium does not have any taste and so, you do not get any taste out of this product. That’s why Emergy is trying to blend in different vegetables to bring that taste in the steak. However, they are trying to use fermentation to ensure that this meaty taste emerges soon.
Credit: Joe Fassler/Marc Piscotty / Emergy Foods