Mycoprotein: A Sustainable Future Food
A lot is to blame for the climate crisis, one of the most dire being our excessive meat consumption. A possible solution? Fungi.
For animal agriculture to keep up with the demand, we are compensating for safety, animal welfare, and sustainable practices that are emitting methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Even deforestation is an impact of global demand for meat and other animal products.
Thankfully with education and/or commercialization of new fungi and plant based products, we have a real shot at satiating the population’s “meattooth”. Mushrooms are already a trusty meat alternative, and now with biotechnology we can partner with fungi in innovative ways.
What exactly is mycoprotein?
In the simplest terms, it's a fermented fungi-based food. Not too different from tempeh or tofu, except that instead of fermenting soybeans or legumes, mycoprotein is just the fungus. Species like Fusarium venenatum and a few in the Neurospora genus will produce a high yield, protein rich product with little resources. The fungi are simply put into a giant tank with a nutrient broth made from other foods like potatoes or sugars, and have the oxygen, CO2 and nitrogen levels dilated to ideal levels so the fungus can grow fast and healthy. The fungi will grow indefinitely until you have a significant mass that can be harvested and processed into a delicious mycoprotein!
Why should we bother making mycoprotein?
Populations are growing as is the human need for meat. To keep up with the global demand, animal agriculture has adopted practices that put it in the top three polluters and causes of climate change — along with deforestation and burning fossil fuels. Mycoprotein offers an alternative "meat" that is more nutrient dense, has a comparable taste and texture, and is very sustainable.
Fungi are a great candidate for faux meats, even more so than plants, because they are genetically more similar to animals than plants. They're biology and therefore their tissues are more reminiscent of animal foods than they are with plant foods. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that mycoproteins are more satisfying and meat-like than the many plant-based faux meats on the market.
We spoke with Paul Shapiro, the CEO of The Better Meat Co., where his team made a mycoprotein they call Rhiza, which contains more protein than eggs, more iron beef, more fiber than oatmeal, and even contains b12.
- Meeting the global demand for meat — at what cost?
- Practical alternatives to animal products, especially meats
- Paul’s recent book on cellular agriculture, or lab-grown meat
- The future of our protein source and how our current practices will be remembered
- How to brew mycoprotein
- Fermentation science and nutritional value of mycoproteins, specifically Rhiza
- The ease, and the challenges, of scaling a mycoprotein
The Better Meat Co. : https://www.bettermeat.co/
Paul Shapiro Website: https://www.paul-shapiro.com/
Paul Shapiro’s Talks: https://www.paul-shapiro.com/speeches
Clean Meat Book: https://cleanmeat.com/
You are listening to the mushroom revival podcast.
Today on the show we are highlighting an emerging food source for protein, fungi. While mushrooms have always been a trusty alternative to meat, we are beginning to see scalable fermented fungi that offer even more nutrient rich, delicious and sustainable products.
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Paul Shapiro, thank you for coming on to the mushroom revival podcast to discuss your work. And myco meet a long awaited topic on the mushroom revival podcast. Can you start off by telling us who you are?
Well, Lera and Alex, I'm a fan of yours. So first of all, that's probably how I introduce myself normally to people, I'm a fan of mushroom revival podcast. But after I tell that, I also tell them that I am the CEO of a company that turns microscopic fungi into things that look and taste like wheat, and we do it in a matter of hours. So I'm eager to talk all about why and how we do it. But the basic premise is that I'm really passionate about trying to find ways to reduce our reliance on the exploitation of animals, especially for food. And I think that fungi are going to play a key role in the effort to do just that. Yeah, fungi have shown up in so many spaces to kind of resolve or mitigate a lot of the toxic practices we have as a consuming society. And the meat part is massive. I mean, it is probably one of the most destructive practices we have these days. And you just wrote a book, which I have to admit I haven't read, but
I could you kind of give us a synopsis of this book and your personal background of just educating yourself on this matter. And like why you wanted to focus on the meat part, in particular. Yes, and before I'm going to answer your question directly later on, but I do have to say so we debate this at our office, I work at a company called the better Mico. And we debate this because you know I said fungi and you say fungi. And I you know I have this feeling that this is like a British versus American thing. But nobody says fungi Well, they only say phone goal. And so that's why I say fungi. But I also think I'm not cool enough to say fungi because of my experiences that people who know a lot more about the topic than I do say fungi. So I don't know what the right way to say it is is it? Is it geographical? Do you know is there some? Yeah, there's funghi as well, but to your point, I agree it's not fungis it's fungus. And I think right the the linguistic argument is all for fun guy. My little circle of myco people said fungi so I started saying that and Yeah, I just think I switch it up.
I think it's what the cool kids do. I really think like the people who really know a lot, say fungi. And for people who don't know as much like myself, they say fungi. So I'm not cool enough. But that's good. I let me answer your question there directly, right? If there are any listeners out there who know what the origin of this is, please email me. I would love to hear about it. Now, to answer your question Lera. So I wrote a book on this topic. It's called clean meat, how growing meat without animals will revolutionize dinner in the world. And that book really chronicles the story, the race between the investors and the, and the entrepreneurs and the scientists who are all trying to put animal free meat on to the tables of people in America and across the world. And what that book really shows is that people want meat, they don't necessarily want animal slaughter, though. So in the same way, for example, if you walk into a room and you flick a light switch on, what you're trying to obtain is an illuminated room, you want the experience of light, but you don't really think about whether that light is being generated by renewables or by fossil fuels, you just want like? Well, the same so with meat. Oftentimes, when people eat meat, they want the experience of meat, but they're not really thinking about whether animals were slaughtered for that or not. And if they did think about it, they might say they would actually prefer for animals not to be slaughtered. So what can we do? Like what can we do to actually create the equivalent of renewable energy but in the protein space, and the best way to do that is to divorce meat from the slaughter of animals, because it just takes a lot of land, a lot of water, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, a lot of animal cruelty and more to raise and slaughter animals for food, when we could produce that same experience with a much, much smaller footprint on the planet and on animals. So that's what the book is about. And that's what my career is about, is trying to figure out how we can sustainably feed humanity into the future, without having to do it on the backs of so so many animals because the planet isn't getting any bigger. You know, humanity's footprint on the planet is getting a lot bigger, but the planet isn't getting any bigger. And one of the principal ways that we leave that footprint is through our food print, primarily in the amount of meat that we eat, for the reasons that I was just enumerating. And so right now, we have nearly 8 billion of us on the planet. And per person, meat consumption is going up, not down. People want more meat on a per person basis. And we are presuming there isn't any catastrophe that brings our numbers down. In the next 30 years, we're scheduled to add another 2 billion more people to the planet. So when we have 8 billion of us one of the more meat than we do today, and we have another couple billion of us coming onto the planet, and who are going to want to eat meat as well, you know, what are you going to do, right? I mean, we're not going to be farming the moon, we're not going to be farming Mars, we have only one celestial body to farm. And we don't have any more room to raise billions more animals and subject them to the very inhumane conditions that we subject them to right now in order to produce meat. So we've got to do something. And there's lots of ways to replicate the meat experience, just like there's lots of alternatives to fossil fuels. So you've got wind, you got solar, you've got geothermal, and more. Well, there's lots of ways to replicate the meat experience, and some of which include fungi. And I'm happy to talk about that and eager, in fact, to talk about that. But that's the basic premise of the book is replicating the meat experience without having to raise animals.
Thanks for doing this advocacy. And this, from a personal level comes really potently for me because as a child, when I like, first put together that the meat that I was been given, came from animal suffrage, and I was such a little animal lover as a kid. I could not really eat it anymore. So I went vegetarian when I was nine years old, and I was just purely emotional, right? And and then I grew up and not to say that I don't still care about that, because I absolutely do. And it bothers me and pains me to think about factory farming, still. But now my motivation to eat. Majority plant based is all about the climate, because I started looking at statistics. And I mean, parts of the world are really getting a hold of this. I have this memory of being in Sweden, and they have a fast food chain. It's like the equivalent of Burger King or McDonald's here. It's called Supermax and they they have a ton of vegetarian options. And by the price, they have the carbon emissions that went with that food. It was radically less for all the plant based options. And I just had to like say something to the clerk at the time because I was impressed. He was like, yeah, we just added the signs up a few years ago. I've worked here for X amount of time. And after we started quantifying the carbon emission, people's consumption really changed and started pivoting towards the plant based side. So it was great to see people care, You know, in Swedish culture, I'm told they're more animal lovers and like there's a ton of vegetarians and veganism and in that part of the world, but goes back to your light bulb, or your light example where you just you just want to see the light, right? But if I had an option, where I could illuminate the room, one with renewables one was not I would choose renewables. And I think so many other people would
Oh, it's very nice to be Lera. And so first, you know, congrats to your nine year old self. I think not nearly many nine year olds are making those type of ethical decisions that you were making. So congratulations on being so advanced as the nine year old, I can assure you when I was nine, I was the last thing that was on my mind. But, you know, look, the United Nations is very clear. They say that animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than all of our transportation sector combined. More than all the trains, planes, cars, boats, all combined, globally speaking, contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions than in the entirety of the animal agriculture sector. The UN also has made it clear that in their report that they recently released called preventing the next pandemic when we look at what are the most likely causes of the next pandemic. The number one cause the United Nation says is the likely contributor to our next pandemic is increasing demand for animal protein. Number two causes the intensification of agriculture meaning cramming more and more animals into smaller and smaller spaces where you're having the chance to amplify viruses throughout them. And then number three is the bushmeat trade, so slaughtering wildlife for their meat. So according to the UN, not only is raising animals for food, a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but it is the number one, two and three causes that they cite of the most likely contributors to the next pandemic. This is something that we have to get a grip on, it's so easy for people who care about the planet, to point our fingers at, for example, the big oil companies and say, Hey, you need to stop. But we have to keep in mind that yes, that's fine. But raising animals for food and eating a diet that's so heavy in meat, eggs, and dairy is a major contributor to environmental and public health crises, not to mention the animal welfare problems that are associated with raising these animals, which is difficult for most people to even hear about. So I won't take time to describe it in detail. except to say that, you know, it's the type of stuff that would be a matter of federal or excuse me felonious animal cruelty, if the victims were dogs or cats, but because they are pigs and chickens, rather than dogs and cats, these industries can treat them in ways that they could never get away with if these animals were dogs and cats. So we have this system that needs to change. The problem is that even knowing facts generally doesn't change people's behavior. Just making people aware of a problem very rarely leads to behavior change. What generally is going to switch is when we make something that renders the old system obsolete. So for example, if you think about 150 years ago, when all of us speaking of light, were lighting our homes with whale oil, there are lots of concerns about the treatment of whales. There were letters to the editor in mid 19th century newspapers puisne for the whales that they were that we might actually render them extinct. Because we are killing so many of them for whale oil was a huge part of the American economy back then. And what ended up saving the whales, though, was not sustainability or humane concerns. One ended up saving the whales was the invention of kerosene, because kerosene offered a cheaper, cleaner way to light our homes than whale oil. And that invention within just a mere couple decades decimated one of the most powerful industries in the entire American economy, just because it rendered it totally obsolete. Similarly, for millennia, the only way that we really had to get around that wasn't on foot generally involved four feet, meaning horses, and we treated them horribly, they only work because we whipped them. And we just made horses do all of our labor against their own will, as you can imagine. And animal welfare groups in the 19th century, were extremely concerned about the treatment of horses asking for resting days for them mandatory hours off watering stations and other campaigns that they were waging to get better treatments for these horses in the streets of places like New York City. And yet what liberated horses wasn't humane concern. It was Henry Ford. And we all know that horses, the exploitation of horses, was rendered obsolete, because we had a better way to transport ourselves. And the list goes on and on and on. I mean, you know, we used to live pluck geese for quills because that's how we wrote Yeah, we we use quill pens, and it's a very inhumane and barbaric industry that surrounded live plucking geese. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had his own flock of geese, because he was such a prolific writer of letters that you know, he had quills being plucked live from geese all the time. Well, we didn't stop because anything But he was concerned about geese, we stopped because the metal fountain pen was invented. And so the list goes on and on really, really cruel things that we were doing to animals that we stopped because technology rendered those types of exploitation totally obsolete. Well, I believe that we can do the same thing with the factory farming of animals, and that we can hope to reduce humanity's footprint on the planet reduce the number of greenhouse gas emissions that we're emitting reduce the amount of animal cruelty that we're inflicting, and more by simply finding better ways to satiate the meat tooth, so to speak, that humanity seems to have. And fungi fermentation is one way of doing that among several. I love the term meat too.
And I definitely want to Yeah, it's a good one, I want to switch to your fungi technology. But first, I think it's worth spending a little bit more time just on the whole ethical conversation. Because I mean, as a kid, it was easy for me to adopt that because my mother was really supportive of it. And you know, we had the ability, we lived in a city so she could go buy corn or other things, you know, a lot of people probably wish, or would switch to those more sustainable diets if they had the option. But here lies a fundamental problem in the whole plant based non factory farm industry is that it has infiltrated almost any part of any source of food, right. So if you're in the middle of nowhere in Mongolia, or Mississippi, you're gonna go to an Aldi and be able to find the most nourishing food is going to be probably some some meat, right? Not a lot of fresh vegetables, not a lot of myco protein. So I think there's a lot to catch up on in terms of just satisfying the industry and like, you know, having that trickle down effect and letting it get to all of these other communities. And I also don't think that there's, there's a way to eat meat, right? It's just that we can't all do that. So it's almost like a lot of us have to overcompensate our consumption to kind of make up for the people who want to eat it more often. And I'll admit that, like all I do eat grass fed, locally raised, once a quarter, just one little piece just because of the heme iron that I'm lacking or feel that I might be lacking. But I'm super choosy about it. Yeah, I mean, so just to point out Lera, that, if everybody did what you did, and ate meat one time per quarter of the year, I go find something else to do with my life.
Right? You know that the sad fact though is that, you know, a lot of people were eating meat daily, in fact, more than one stay away, and they want to eat more, you know, if you look at the places where it's gonna matter the most in the future, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, all these places that have an expanding middle class, it's wonderful that their middle classes are expanding, as it means that people are escaping poverty. But one of the externalities of that is that there's a much, much bigger footprint on the planet, way more greenhouse gas emissions, way more animals raised for food, and so on. And I don't think it's fair for us to ask the people who are joining the first world not to live the way that Americans and Western Europeans are living, you know, they want to eat meat, just like we do. Even in America, which eats more meat per capita than just about any other nation on the planet. per capita meat consumption is still going up. And it just seems like people generally speaking, not everybody, obviously. But a lot of people just eat as much meat as they can afford. And the times when meat consumption has actually gone down in the US have basically been times of economic recession, where you know, people couldn't afford it. So then we just got to come to grips with the fact that yeah, it would be a lot better for people to eat a lot less meat, I'd be thrilled if people wanted to eat beans and rice burritos and lentil soup and hummus. Those are awesome foods, I love eating them. I wish more people would eat them.
But we got to play the cards as they're dealt. And the cards that have been dealt are very challenging, because meat is the food that it seems like as soon as people can afford it, they start to buy a lot of it again, not everybody but a lot of people. And so you know, there's lots of ways to replicate the meat experience, one of which is simply to grow real meat from animal cells, rather than from animal slaughter, which is what a lot of companies are doing. They're not yet commercialized in the United States, although they are in Singapore. But that's what the topic of my book clean meat is about is growing real meat from animal cells rather than from animal slaughter. Then you have other companies that instead of going to the animal kingdom to try to replicate meat, they're going to the plant kingdom, and they're using plants like peas or soybeans or wheat and transforming them into foods that look and tastes like animal flesh. So companies like beyond meat and impossible foods are basically taking peas or soybeans respectively in those cases, and they are transforming them, interferers that look like beef. And that's a really cool technology. But it takes a lot takes a lot to do all that, you know, you've got to grow the field of peas harvest, the field of P is milled into a flower, but that flower doesn't have that much protein. So you then have to fractionate it by removing the fiber and the fat and you isolate it to the point where you got a pea protein powder pot very high in protein now, but it still is lacking the texture of meat. So then you have to subject it to a process known as extrusion, which involves a lot of heat and a lot of pressure. And it changes the molecular structure of the protein powder from a globular protein, which is what plants have to stringy or protein, which is what animals have. And that's how you get the basis of a plant based meat. But there's an entirely other kingdom, not plant and not animal that you can go to. And that's what we have, the better myco are doing. So rather than using plants to mimic animal flesh, we are using fungi, and fungi, as you all well know better than anybody are a different Kingdom altogether. But they're not directly in the middle of plants and animals. They're way closer to animals. So fungi, for example, breathe in oxygen and breathe out co2 just like animals do. And unlike what plants do, which breathe in co2 and sequester it and breathe out oxygen is you know, also, you know, plants just put themselves in the sun, and they photosynthesize. And that's how they get their food, whereas fungi have to actually search out through the soil and find things to eat and digest them. And that's just like what animals do. So this is why mushrooms tend to have a meteor texture than plants do. Because fungi are so much closer to animals than to plants. In fact, mushrooms have been used for centuries in Asian cuisine as a meat substitute. So the question is, though, how can we economically create an industry that produces a river of fungi protein that can be done rapidly and and cost effectively so it can actually compete against animal meat. And mushrooms themselves don't have a lot of protein typically speaking, but mycelium does. And so you know, you could you know, look throughout the soil and try to find mycelium. But what we do is they submerge liquid fermentation where we subject microscopic fungi to a fermentation where we feed it starchy foods like potatoes and within hours that converts it into foods that look and taste like meat. So basically what we're doing is in the same way that a cow eats grass and converts that into steak, we are feeding our little fungi, potatoes, and they converted into a high protein succulent, high iron food that looks and tastes like animal meat and doesn't require a lot of processing. In fact, after fermentation, the only real processing we do is remove the water and then chop it up. So we have a very, a very strong process that enables us just through fermentation to create this river of what we call ryza. That's our h ICA or Greek for the word root for mycelium or myco protein. And so we can create this river of ryza out of our facility in Sacramento, California, that really can do a lot to compete against animal based meat because it is so close to animal meat. And because we don't have to do that much processing to get it into that format. And we're already competing on cost with beef with goals to get down to the price of chicken eventually.
And I'm sure you've had very extensive board meetings about all the customer profiles and kind of blockages that are getting in the way of people, you know, accepting this new way of life, right? Because it's radically different. And people have their own perceptions of, you know, first of all, lab grown meat. I hear a lot of companies talking about it, but I've never actually seen it on the shelf. And maybe I've just, you know, conned past it and not seen it. But I've seen beyond meat, and I've seen others made with plants. But I can see a lot of roadblocks for people saying, you know, lab grown meat is artificial, it's unnatural. And there's another camp saying lab grown meat, you know, they don't want to eat meat period, whether it comes from an animal or in a lab. And then for you know, this plant based or fungal based, they have a perception of like tofu that kind of has the texture of cardboard, and they don't want anything to do with it. They tried it once and it didn't taste good. Or maybe it's really expensive or pretentious, right? And it's only for like tofu curtain vegans who are really wealthy and it's not for me, you know, I'm an average Joe, or....you know, yeah, it's expensive, it doesn't taste good. All these different things kind of blocking people, which I'm sure you your team addresses on a daily basis of how do we make it the most accessible as possible? What in your opinion and just, you know, you're on the you're on the battlefield every day with this. What are the biggest roadblocks
To make this an everyday thing, and and to replace kind of, you know, whale blubber to now electricity or chunks of ice overseas to now, we have freezers. Yeah. Well, it's a great question and great examples that you're giving Alex. So, you know, in short, let me first just directly address what you said about meat that's grown from animal cells. So, you know, people who want to derive it, they typically call it lab grown meat, people in the industry typically call it other cultivated meat, or maybe clean meat or something like that. But what you call it does seem to actually impact what people the the level of desire that people have to eat it. But, you know, when you call it live real meat, of course, it sounds pretty gross. But, you know, cultivated meat, which is what they're doing, they're just cultivating animal cells. You know, it sounds, I would say, more appetizing. But right, you know, you look at the surveys, and people were asked about this, people were asked, like, when do you eat this food? Surprisingly, large numbers of people say yes, you know, even when you ask in the worst way, when you make it sound, the grossest still work about great people is still saying that they would eat it. So I mean, a quarter of the population, imagine if we could cut demand for meat by a quarter. I mean, that would be massive, especially considering that it's going up right now, not down. Now, you know, you made a really interesting point, Alex, about ice, because, you know, for millennia, the only way anybody had to get ice was out of nature. And so, you know, we had this big industry where people were harvesting big blocks of ice out of frozen rivers and lakes, and they put them on insulated boats and ship them all around the world. Well enter the advent of industrial refrigeration, and all of a sudden, you had a much cheaper way to get ice, which is, instead of from nature, you get it through human made technology. And the ice barons of that era in the 19th century, were livid over this innovation, and they railed against what they called artificial eyes. They said, it's unnatural, it's artificial, it's ungodly, it could stick in your kids. And they really did a scare campaign to try to get people not to use it. Well, you fast forward to today, and all of us have artificial icemakers in our homes, we call them freezers, we don't think there's anything unnatural about it at all. In fact, we probably would never consider women in a home without one. And so while for 1000s of years, the only way we had to get ice was out of nature. And now we're making it through technology. That doesn't sound that different from meat 1000s of years, the only way to get meat was by slaughtering animals. And now we're getting technology that can allow us to have the same experience, except it will be made in a far more efficient, far more sustainable, far more humane manner that uses a tiny fraction of the resources as needed. You know, in some ways, it's almost like if you think about what happened with the film industry. So if you if you go back to the 1990s, like Kodak and Canon were vying for supremacy in the film market, they both knew about digital, but Kodak was concerned that it was going to cannibalize its core business of selling negatives, and print film, and so on. And canon knew about it and said, we think this is the future, and we're going to invest even if it cannibalizes, our core business. And we all know what happened. In the end, Kodak went bankrupt. And canon is now the largest manufacturer of digital cameras on the planet, they still sell us the same thing, though, like canon is still selling us a way to capture our memories is just done in a more efficient, better way that we all prefer. I mean, I remember when one hour photo came out, and I was like, Oh my god, I can't believe we're gonna get our photos in one hour. You know, this is like revolution to me. And now imagine if it took one minute, you know, imagine it was one minute people will be limited to wait one minute to get their photos. And so you can see how the same thing can happen here. Now, you know, these companies still sell us the same experience is still you know, you're still having is even though it's made through technology, you're still capturing your memories, even though it's digital rather than gelatin, you're still getting the meat experience, even though animals weren't tormented and killed for it. The question is, how many people are going to be eager to walk in and be the early adopters of these new kinds of foods. And I think a sizable portion based on the polling shows that they are lire you mentioned corn to you Rn earlier. And that's a great example. This is a company that commercialized a type of fungi protein that no one had consumed prior to a few decades ago. And now they have this very successful business based on the popularity of this product where, you know, their their company, and six years ago was acquired for 800 million US dollars. That's pretty remarkable that they took a food that nobody had ever eaten, they took a microbe that nobody had ever consumed before and made a whole business out of it where, you know, is worth $100 million to be acquired six years ago, and it's worth a lot more than that now. So I just think that you know, to answer your question directly, Alex, not everybody wants to be an early adopter. But when you are given the choice between having the same experience, except one of them, caused a lot of suffering and environmental degradation. Whereas the other one didn't. I think a lot of people, not everybody, but a lot of people are going to be pretty down to try the new product out. Well, I'm excited for you to launch her at home bioreactor where you can grow your home, at home myco me in 10 seconds flat. I love this idea. Like, you know, right now, it's like if you walk into your friend's house, and let's say she has like a bread maker, or an ice cream maker on our kitchen counter, it's kind of cool, but it's not really remarkable. But what if you had a meat maker? You know, what if you had like a machine that was on your counter where you could brew your own meat? And wouldn't that be awesome? I would love that. Go for it.
Yeah, be sweet. I think I'm waiting for interesting. I'll take a cut of the equity, I won't take much but..
You have you had the idea first, it's all you.
No I honestly, that would be amazing. And but even if it wasn't at home, and you know, like your company and other companies were doing it, I think it's huge, a huge step in the right direction that we that we need. And I think about this all the time of just looking around at all the things that we think are super high tech today. And just, you know, imagining myself talking to my grandkids or, or, you know, future generations, and then thinking is the most archaic thing on the planet, like, why died, you know, just like you're talking about the cameras, I mean, it's it's so funny, we have to think that way, we have to think long term. And not everyone can, you know, there's so many people living day to day or meal to meal or whatever. But, but really, if we're going to survive as a species of Homo sapiens, like, we don't have that much time left. So we have to, you know, we have to think long term, if we're going to survive as a species, and one of these big things is our meat industry, we cannot go on, you know, with this archaic platform. So, right, so about that. We're, we're mycologists. So we're obviously gonna ask and I don't know if you can say like, what fungi are involved in this, this process?
Sure. So if you were to look up our the patents that have been granted to us, what you'd basically see is protection around the use of the neurospora genus, for use in a type of fermentation that creates a meat like product. And so this is something that's been you know, this is a genus that's been consumed by humanity safely for centuries. So if you think about what corn is doing with Fusarium then an autumn, which is a, you know, a great product, I love getting corn. But you know, nobody had eaten it again, a few decades ago. Whereas if you look at this, though, you know, people have been eating this, especially like if you look at Indonesia in the form of onshore, which is closely related to Tempe, for centuries safely. And what we're doing is just creating a different type of product with this, where we're able to actually make a meet like experience within within mere hours. And so again, it's a submerge liquid fermentation process. And if you go onto our website, you can see photos from our plant. No, it looks kind of like a beer brewery. But it's a beer brewery that instead of brewing alcohol was burning meat. And we have recently just completed a serving at a steakhouse in Sacramento, California, where they served myco protein steaks that we made. So these are steaks that have no extruded plant proteins in them. So there's no extruded soy protein, or wheat protein or pea protein. You know, the the primary ingredient is our myco protein that we call ryza. And people loved it. This Steakhouse was you know, they put it on the menu. And people absolutely loved the steaks because they're succulent. They really look and taste like a regular New York Strip. We're calling it the Sacramento strip. But either way, it's still a strip, and it looks really good. And it tastes really good. And it was very popular on the menu there. So I really believe that the future is fungi. And we are going to have the assistance of this kingdom to help free us from our worst impulses, which have been to raise and slaughter billions of animals for food. And instead, we can look to the fungi kingdom and make much better products in a much more humane and sustainable way.
It I have a really funny story about neurospora. So I have worked on many different you know, commercial gourmet mushroom farms. And that was the bane of this certain mushroom farm it because it grows so fast, and it's a mold that it takes over, you know and if you're called to it fungi, you know, it's in a sterile environment. And you're basically making sure that that only the fungi that you want gets access to the buffet of food that you put out for it in a sterile bag. But neurospora is just so aggressive, and it would take over in, like you said, a matter of hours. And we would do a deep cleaning of the farm and we, you know, all this stuff. And we would come back the next morning, and there'd be this mold everywhere. And it's bright orange, the one that was growing at the farm. But it is beautiful, but it was like, it just destroyed any orange climb out of the filter patch and just sporulate everywhere. And it was just so invasive. And they remember this really funny conversation that just brings it all full circle we're talking with I was talking with the owner of the farm, and we're, we're doing research on what the hell is this? And we're like, wow, some people actually eat it as a food. And it's like this really gournay stuff. And we have this really funny conversation for like, 60 seconds tops are like, should we just make a new rosborough Farm because we're really good at it. And we can grow so much of this orange fungus. And it's so funny, I have to send him you know, your company and like how, you know, what we could have been if we if we kept growing that neurospora?
That's really funny. Yeah, I mean, you'll you'll often see it, it's characteristic in that orange color. Although Fortunately, the way that we grow it does not enable it to become orange, which would be quite bad for us. But yeah, so I mean, in nature, when you see a growing I mean it typically grows and burn sites, and so on burned wood is where it'll first show up. And it is a great product. And if you look up like on Shazam, which is typically spelled o n c om, this is a great food, you know, people mean eating it. And so you know, for those of you familiar with cambay, which is like rhizopus fermented soybean cake, use a neurospora fermented peanut cake, and you can make on chum, and it's a high protein, highly digestible food that you can transform these like kind of low quality feedstock level products into something that actually is very good and very healthy for you. So I like it a lot. But we use it as the primary ingredient, not the sole ingredient, but the primary ingredient in our products that enables our customers to make a really meat like experience out of it. And it's delicious. I hope that you all will come here to Sacramento and allow us to roll out the red carpet for you and give you a tour and tasting here. And you can eat some microwaves, steaks and crab cakes and chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and more. We'd love to have you here.
Hell yeah. Oh, yeah, we'll be there for sure. And have you tried other species of like chicken in the woods or morels or you know, or this was the one that worked and you're just full, full steam ahead.
So we can use a variety of species, we like what we use for some of the reasons that you correctly pointed out mainly growth rates and so on. Right, I don't think that we've ever used chicken in the woods, but it does create a pretty meat like texture. We've never grown it to my recollection, but I just didn't I'm not aware of how you could do it economically. Where right, right would grow fast. Like, you know, the problem is when you're doing a submerged liquid fermentation, you know, time kills you, because you're right utilities every moment, you know, the, you know, the, the fungi need to breathe, so you need to put air in there for them. And you need to be putting in air at all time. So there's costs associated with, the longer the time in the fermenter is, right. You know, every hour you shave off is a really big savings not just in time, but in cost of goods sold. So there are advantages to using what we use for that reason, but it's possible that you can make something maybe even cola narrowly preferable using other species, but I don't know how economic it would be.
Right? Yeah, we we had a huge quarter sets militaris farm, which is a functional mushroom that a lot of people use, and we were growing it off rice, and it would make these rice cakes and a lot of times we would afterward harvest the mushrooms we you know, would eat the cakes and cook them up like that day. And we took a lot of tours of temporary farms like okay, we can we usually would compost these cakes, and we're like, Hey, we can actually turn this into a food, you know, like 10 pay. And we're touring a lot of these farms. And that was the same realization we had is that template takes like 24 hours or this really short amount of time, whereas cordyceps mycelium would take like a couple weeks or something to be fully myceliated and we're like, Damn this takes so long, and you can't really make it commercially viable and we're just crunching the numbers and it just doesn't really make sense. I feel like some could do it. But having a fungus that just rips through its substrate in like, a matter of hours is what you really need? For sure.
Yeah. Yeah, I am in total concert with you, you know, my recollection of the times when I made hampir. Six, like at least 30 hours to do it. And that is much shorter than it would take for a number of other species. But there are some other cool ones. I mean, you mentioned rice. I mean, you know, interestingly, I don't know if you guys have ever had the monascus purpureus. Red, like the red yeast rice. Are you familiar with that?
No, but I've always wanted to try it. That's been around since 600 ad, which is crazy. Interesting. Wow.
Yeah, well, anyway, you know, people use monascus purpureus, basically, as a as like, as like a stat and like a cholesterol lower. So you put that on rice, like what you're doing and have that grow on rice, and then consume the actual monascus purpureus. And it's supposed to have really dramatic effects on lowering your cholesterol so much so that you can buy lots of supplements in the United States right now just called Red yeast rice. And that's what you're consuming. There is this fun guy that's supposed to be really healthy for you? I've never had it. But apparently people really like it.
So I have a some more mycology questions for you. You offer a variety of this myco meat, like the crab cakes, and the ground beef and the chicken, which all look very similar. It's like a facsimile to what the market offers. And I'm wondering if you can tell us anything about how you treat the fungus to achieve like a certain type of meat?
Yeah, yeah, sure. So what happens during fermentation is very important. And it can affect the color and texture of the final product. So we can control the parameters of the fermentation in certain ways to alter what type of product we're making, but also through the ingredients that we're adding. So when you look, if you look, for example of a steak that's being served in Sacramento at the steakhouse, I mean, it's red, not because of anything we do in the fermentation, but because we add beet juice at the end, once it's been harvested. If you look, for example, at other things that we're doing, a lot of it has to do with the physical ways that we are processing the the mycelium post fermentation harvest. And, you know, for us, the key is mimicry, we don't want to create just a food that happens to tastes really good, but doesn't really taste like meat, we want something that people will choose instead of meat because they can't tell a difference, like same thing as going back to the light switch example. So that involves using natural flavors, it involves using a certain types of vegetable coloring, in order to really make it look and taste like meat. And I understand that, you know, for some people, they would probably be happy, just eat something that tastes good. Even if it doesn't taste exactly like meat. I personally am one of those people I'm quite pleased to eat, you know, anything that just tastes good, even if it doesn't taste like meat. But I think we gotta you know, we got to give people the satiation of that meat experience. And so we work very hard after fermentation and during fermentation to make the food look and taste just like what we're trying to replicate. So, in addition to having fermentation scientists and mycologist and microbiologist on our staff here, we also have food scientists and chefs who are able to create these finished good applications.
And we had a conversation with ecovative A while back, and they were working on creating myco scaffolding for cell based meat. Is that something that is in the works for you guys? Or maybe a future project?
You know, we haven't really done that. I think that it would be more likely that you would do that with a solid state fermentation of your fungi rather than a liquid state like well, we do. I do the think that we could make a substrate that could work really well for a leather like after we press our product and actually kind of you can do we can make it to look like a leather and so we don't have an interest in becoming a leather purveyor. But there are lots of companies in the mycelium leather space. And we could see ourselves as a provider to those companies, right. So I love what Evan and the rest of the folks at ecovative are doing. They are like total pioneers in this space. But I don't see us going down that particular path.
And then another question. We were talking with myco technology who makes you know, bitter blocker and a lot of other things. And they do liquid state fermentation as well. And they were just talking about how hard it is specifically with using bio reactors to scale. And it's one thing to have it kind of on a bench scale by reactor to prove that the concept works or maybe smaller scale. You're Fulfilling orders. But then to really scale it up to the point where you're competitive. It, it's a whole leap of magnitude that is just so hard and difficult to do. Are you guys finding the same thing with your product and just scaling your bio reactors to produce that much to actually, one day be able to compete? Like you said, with the prices of chicken? and other things?
Yeah, so, you know, I'm a big fan of myco technology, I think it's really cool what they're doing to not only make better blockers, but also to make like pea protein taste better, and so on through a through fermentation. So, it's really cool. But, you know, the short answer is yes. Like, you know, there's lots of challenges that you face, I often joke that when you start your own company, you will sleep like a baby, because you will wake up every two hours and cry. And, you know, is this just like, what happens? You know, you switch from one scale to the next and it doesn't work, or there's some changes have to get like the same exact shape of reactor rise and scale, you know, one thing. So, you know, one thing changes about the aspect ratio and the design and all of a sudden you have a greatly different fermentation that's happening. So it's fraught with peril, but we're running a large scale. Now, we're not at full scale. But you know, there's typically like four different scales that people here talk about. There's bench scale, pilot scale, demonstration scale, and then full scale, and we're at the third one. So you know, we're operating a fermenter that, you know, goes up like nearly 30 feet into the air that we can produce 1000s of pounds a month from so you know, it's not like we're producing just a small number of grams here. Right in the way that that some others are not everybody the way some others are. I am microtech has a very impressive facility, but they're not to my knowledge making mycelium they're doing my soil fermentation for pea protein and rice protein, but they're not selling the myco protein itself. Right. But yeah, so you know, we've scaled it to that level. And it works. And it works regularly. So it's very good. At the same time, even our demonstration scale plan, which we perceive it as huge. I mean, I look at it, and it, you know, reminds me of like, Did you ever see the movie contact with Jodie Foster? Yes, so good. Yeah, I love I love that movie. It's like one of my favorite movies of all time. And I truly believe like our fermentation system reminds me of like the machine that the aliens instruct them to build so that she can go through the wormhole. Like, that's what it looks like to me. Like, really impressive, it's really impressive to me, when I look at it, however, you know, we need something with a fermenter the size of an office building, you know, like, we need something that's like 10 storeys tall, basically. Right. And, you know, you look at you look at corn, and they have numerous fermenters, the size of office buildings, you know, they, I guess I don't know this for a fact. And my guess is they might have 10 of those. So, you know, you just realize like the scale is just absolutely enormous if you actually want to have impact and be able to produce enough that you could offer the market all that it needs. I'll tell you, even with our demonstration scale plan, and we're in the process of currently designing our next lamp, which will be you know, at that gigantic scale that I was just referencing, but even with that when people try the product, it is so superior to extrusion plant proteins, it's so much media, it's so much better than what's currently available on the market, that major food companies are already in talks with us with offtake agreements, so that they can be first in line to get the product from us when it goes on sale from our full scale plant. So we're looking at here, you can call it a mushroom.
You know? Yeah, it's funny because it you know, I mean, it's not a mushroom. But obviously if people don't really know the difference between fungi and mushrooms, you'll notice I never say fungal. If it's two to two, for the way person, it's not not an attractive word for obvious reasons. But for the listeners of this podcast, I'm sure be very attractive. But anyway, the point is, you know, mushroom while it may not be scientifically accurate, I still think is a pretty good way to describe it even because it is typically perceived as a synonym for fungi. My concern is that, you know, some people don't like mushrooms, and this doesn't taste like mushrooms, and resin and mummy flavor, but it doesn't really taste like mushrooms. And so I want to make sure we're not turning off the people who don't like eating mushrooms now. No, no, I mean, you're talking about your plant. Like oh no, no, no, no, yeah, instead of calling it your your next plant you just call it your next mushroom. Oh my Oh man. I'm so embarrassed Alex. I can't believe I was. stressed that word from my striking plants from my vocabulary from now on because of you. There you go.
You brought up such a good point, though, like calling this fungus related, like I know so many microphones even at my personal work, people who are all in decides they're like, oh, fungus related, like you think contamination and athlete's foot. Right. Right. Exactly. Yeah. You, your website seems to paint it very well for the laborers. And thank you. Yeah, I did. Go myco corn uses myco protein for a reason. I think and I think they're right, people like myco protein. It's really good. I was just thinking it's been a while since I've had corn, you know, probably, I don't think I've ever had it. Oh, let's get some. It's quite it's an experience. And and now you've got me wanting to go to their plan. If that's even, or their mushroom, if that's even a possibility.
I'm sure they'd let you there. They're pretty open. They're an awesome company. But I gotta say you consider yourself a myco file, but you've never eaten corn. You know, I I might be able to start saying fungi now. That's, that's that's the level that Right. Right.
I'm the embarrassment now. How do you so so a little side tangent? Have you seen or heard of the first bioreactor plant in, in Brooklyn to produce penicillin?
Oh, cool. I would love to go see that. But no, I haven't I didn't know that it was still in existence. That would be so cool. is it's not still in operation, I presume? No, I don't think so. And it.
So basically, from the way this this documentary that we saw put it, and I don't know if it's 100% accurate, but they made it seem like this production plant in Brooklyn, was the first bioreactors ever made in the world. And it the whole, you know, they were trying to make a new innovative way to make bolc penicillin. And it was kind of like this whole conversation that we're having this whole time of like, okay, we need penicillin, but we need a better way to get there, right, we want light, but we want a better way to get there. And they were growing it in flasks, and these really funny pictures of like, you know, 1000s of these bottles, where they're just growing, you know, on the surface of the, the, whatever the sugary water is in these bottles with polyfill stuffed in the to the tops of these bottles. And then they made this plant in Brooklyn, and it was like bio reactors, or liquid fermentation was started because the need of penicillin. And we've been trying to go there because it seems like such a cool historical monument. Right, the start of bio reactors.
Yeah, I would be extremely interested in going I love seeing this type of historical artifacts. In fact, I have thought about so I went to the Netherlands and visited this little tiny lab, which is the first lab to ever make a cultivated burger. So they grew actual cow cells and made up Oh, whoa, cool. I mean, I was in, you know, something that was like 500 square feet, or like tiny is in Maastricht Netherlands. And I was like, you know, I felt like I was in a sacred, you know, like a sacred space to worship. It was so cool to be there. But yeah, see where they were first making penicillin and reactors that would be awesome. And in a in another good example of why we why mod needs a better PR agent? Because, you know, right? That is about the worst thing that you can call it. But penicillin is just the old writing the life saving mode. So I hope that somebody can rehabilitate, maybe not rehabilitate, but hub rotate, for the first time, the M word because I think motors offers a lot of great things in the world for us.
Yeah, from one mode to the next. The way we live. Yeah, I have one more question. If you have the time. And that is just about the product itself. So say you're a person who believes that eating meat gives them all this good stuff. Can they get all of that? those nutrients, the protein, the iron, the B 12, yada, yada, from the myco protein? I imagine the levels are different, but I'm just wondering if you've done any research onto this, or if you're like, changing the settings on your bioreactor to increase, you know, a certain level of X Factor?
Yeah, well, there's a lot wrapped up in there. Lera. Let me go point by point. So first and foremost, the short answer is yes. So our myco protein ryza. One of them before we even add any other ingredients to it on its own has more protein than eggs, more iron than beef, more fiber than it's more potassium than bananas, and it naturally contains vitamin B 12. We don't have to add any b 12 or anything. It just contains them because it's a microbial fermentation. So it really is like a superfood in it's really almost miraculous man truly seems like magic. Of course. It's not magic. It's just science, but it seems like magic. On the other hand, I do want to point out that, you know, neither you nor anybody you know, is protein deficient. Probably people listening to this podcast, I've never met anybody who is protein deficient. In America, people get way more protein than we need. However, virtually every single person who's listening to this is fiber deficient. More than 95% of Americans do not get the rdta of fiber. And that's really important, not just for things like constipation, but also its height increases your risk of horrible things like colon cancer and other various ailments that are correlated with a low fiber diet. And so meat has no fiber in it. Meat, as you know, the animals don't have fiber because they have skeletons that hold them up. Whereas plants have fiber and fungi have fiber because they don't have skeleton. So the fiber is what the skeletal structure essentially that holds them up. And so when people eat meat, there are there. Yeah, they're getting protein, which is something that they already get more than they need, but they're not getting any fiber, and which is something that they really desperately needed. And so I think that in the same way that right now, if you tell somebody, you're a vegetarian, and they say, Well, you know, where do you get your protein? I think in the future, people might be saying to people, where do you get your fiber? You know, where is it that you're getting your fiber, and you can get a lot of fiber by eating fungi in plants, but you can't get any fiber by eating meat. And so I think that with ryza, and with myco protein, you get the best of both worlds. Yeah, you still get the protein that you want, but you're getting the fiber that you need. And so that's why I think this food doesn't just mimic meat, but it is actually better than meat. And we can create products that will give people better experiences, not just identical experiences. You should call your company better meet or something. Oh, that's a good first you meet maker. Yeah, I'll see if we can trademark that. We'll see. Okay, yeah. Get back to me if it works out. This will be like, this would be like the Facebook dispute where those two twins had like, the beef with Mark Zuckerberg. drop drop the Yeah, trust Facebook.
Yeah, you're like, well, I'm gonna say, well, Alex only said better meat. It's actually the better meat co so it wasn't his idea. Right. Right.
Cool, how amazing. Thank you for bringing this product to market. It's truly the future, I think and shout out to narrowsburg. I, I had no idea.
I'm grateful. Potatoes.
Yeah, you know, it's amazing. Like, you know, you think about potatoes, which are like 1% protein. And within hours, we can transform through fermentation into a product that has about 45% protein. It's truly it's like an unbelievable thing to watch. And it's fun to look in the sight glass of the fermenter and see it happening and come back an hour later. And it's visibly thicker. And then a couple of hours later, and it's chock full of mycelium, and you can't even you know, you know agitated anymore, because it's it's a thick, so amazing how rapidly it occurs. And hopefully this will be one way that we can transform humanity's relationship with the rest of the planet. Because for so long, our relationship with other animals and the rest of the planet has really sadly been one that's just based on violence and domination. Whereas I think that through these types of technologies, and through harnessing the power that the fungi Kingdom offers that we can create a relationship that isn't any longer based on violence and domination, but really is based on compassion and respect. That's what I'm trying to do with the better Mico and my book, clean meat. And if any of your listeners want to get involved, I'd love to hear from you, you can visit us at better meet.co. Again, that's better meet.co and love to hear from you about how we can work together to try to make the world a better place.
Yeah, and I think you do such an eloquent and beautiful job at displaying the need for this and your multiple TED Talks. So all that'll be in the show notes. And I encourage all of our listeners to check it out. And finally, if you have like photos or videos you want to share with us, either of your product or if the fermentation and action. Sure listeners would love to see it and we can just throw it in a Google Drive and toss it in the show notes. Cool. I'll email you some photos when we get off of the phone here are the that's like how that's how archaic I am. I still say.
I will email you some photos when we are done with the conversation. Lovely. I'm super pumped to see them and it was wonderful talking with you Paul, I carry to visit you guys. It'd be fun. We'll roll out the red carpet, you name the time we would love to have you here. We're gonna brew a myco protein steak for you.
Okay, I'm so pumped. Yeah. All right. Well, thanks again. Lera. And Alex, I really appreciate it's a lot of fun to talk with you and I'll email you momentarily.
Thanks so much.
And also big thank you to Paul Shapiro and all the sustainable advocates out there. And again, you can support us by visiting our website mushroom revival calm and using the coupon code pod treat for a special surprise discount, and rating and reviewing goes a long way and just telling all your friends and family about the power of mushrooms.
And as always much love and may the spores be with you.