Mushrooms offer new products and opportunities

Fungi are the newest trend in plant-based alternatives

Chaga is a functional mushroom species that offers immune-boosting benefits. It can be ground and added to foods and beverages.

The popularity of pea and soy-derived proteins as food ingredients is growing rapidly due to strong consumer demand for alternative proteins and meat substitutes. 

Mushrooms are a promising plant-based ingredient emerging along with those foodstuffs.

Why it matters: According to Natural Products Canada, fungi can transform solid matter, changing both its chemical composition and its physical properties, which opens new possibilities for food and beverage manufacturers seeking to make animal-free products. 

Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd, for example, uses fy, a naturally occurring fungus that is high in protein, as the basis for its plant-based breakfast patties and cream cheeses. 

Using biomass fermentation, the company grows microbes with simple sugars and foods in a controlled environment. According to chief marketing officer Karuna Rawal, the biggest advantage of being animal-free is how rapidly the protein can be grown compared to livestock. 

Forage Hyperfoods is a Canadian company building a mushroom-based business. A leading supplier of wild Canadian mushrooms, its specialty is chaga, a functional mushroom species used for medicinal purposes. 

Launched earlier this year, the product line includes chaga chunks, nuggets and powders, as well as high potency liquid extracts and a ground mushroom coffee blend. With antioxidant and immune-boosting benefits among their touted properties, the products are marketed as part of a preventive approach to health care.

“The view we have on these products is that people don’t need to change their everyday routine. You can have the benefit of mushroom products in your beverage in the morning or as an additive to a water bottle, for example,” said president and co-founder Jonathan Murray during a presentation at the recent Mycelium Congress Start-Up Showcase. 

“Our chaga is from Canada, so we’re providing economic benefit to the Canadian market, and we are trying to keep potency strong and quality high.” 

According to Murray, chaga naturally grows on tree trunks, and the leading global supply comes from China and Russia, where it is often a byproduct of deforestation. Forage Hyperfoods sustainably harvests wild-growing Canadian chaga, leaving about 30 per cent of the mushroom on each tree for regrowth. 

To keep up with demand and keep production sustainable, the company has implemented a cultivation practice outside of Ottawa, and a seeding program for woodlot owners in partnership with the Canadian Woodlot Association. 

“We think we can increase our supply five to seven times,” Murray said. 

He’s also optimistic about the potential of microbiome research undertaken by his company that shows a gut-brain connection and has started discussions with colorectal specialists about future studies and trials. 

Ben Lightburn’s company, Filament Health, focuses on the natural psychedelic properties of mushrooms. Based in Vancouver, the company sees natural psychedelics as a treatment option for mental illness, for example. 

“The overall natural mega-trend is coming to fungi. Consumers are becoming aware of the beneficial properties of various mushrooms, and as people want greater control over their own health, they want medicinal, functional and pharmaceutical mushrooms,” said Lightburn while speaking at the same event. 

Another Canadian start-up using mushrooms is Chinova Bioworks. The New Brunswick company has developed a natural and clean-label shelf-life extender suitable for food and beverage manufacturing. 

Its trademarked product is called Chiber. It’s based on a dietary fibre called chitosan, extracted from white button mushroom stems that mushroom growers traditionally compost or send to landfills. The company has three products in the market suitable for beverages, dairy and plant-based dairy alternatives. The latest innovation is a vegan-friendly mushroom fining agent for breweries. 

Alberta’s Ceres Solutions grows gourmet mushrooms using a mixture of spent grain from local craft breweries and agricultural byproducts. The leftover mushroom substrate is high in protein and marketed into a trademarked cattle feed called Mycopro. 

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