Meat is murder—of Earth’s climate, at least. More than a quarter of the planet’s ice-free land is inefficiently used for grazing, a third of all farmland grows food for animals, and livestock are prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases. Global demand for meat is spiking at exactly the moment it’d be really good for all of us to eat less of it.
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Illustration: Alvaro Dominguez
Alas, meat is also freakin’ delicious. High-tech plant-based replacements aspire to replicate its proteinaceous umami yumminess and texture, but pea-based Beyond and soy-based Impossible face technical challenges. So maybe it’s time to look to a whole other kingdom of life for meaty not-meats: fungus.
Fast-growing meshworks of mycelial filaments can replicate meat’s texture, and it’ll eat pretty much any carbon source, including waste from various industrial processes. Decades ago, British-based Quorn was the beginning of this idea, but this year the number of startups planning to put fungus-based alternative proteins in stores and on plates is mushrooming.
You’ve already eaten Berkeley, California-based Prime Roots’ substrate. It’s better known as koji, the fungus that gets the starches in rice and soy ready for fermentation into sake and soy sauce, producing all sorts of meaty flavors along the way. Prime Roots grows a particular variety of koji and adds fats and flavors for eatin’.
Proprietary Mycelial Strain ‘Rosita’
Boulder-based Meati pored through libraries of filamentous fungi used to make other stuff—citric acid, antibiotics—to find one that could grow directly in bioreactors. The resulting harvest is good enough to fry up in vegan butter and garlic all on its own.
Found in a Yellowstone hot spring, the fast-growing fungus that underpins Sustainable’s products grows in open trays, no bioreactor required. Then it’s just a matter of drying, pressing, and adding flavor.