Last July, New York-based startup MyForest foods announced the opening of a vertical farm that would grow three million pounds of mycelium a year, all for plant-based bacon. Now competitor Meati Foods is blowing them out of the water with a facility that will be able to produce more than 45 million pounds of product once it’s fully scaled up. The company announced the opening of a factory it’s calling “Mega Ranch” in Thornton, Colorado (a suburb north of Denver) last week.
Meati makes a variety of plant-based imitation meat products, or “animal-free whole-food proteins,” including a classic steak, carne asada, a classic cutlet, and a crispy cutlet. The meats are made of 95 percent mushroom root, with additional ingredients, including oat fiber, seasonings, fruit and vegetable juices, and lycopene (for color). With up to 17 grams of protein and 12 grams of dietary fiber per serving, the company says the meats are comparable to their animal-derived counterparts in nutritional value.
Mushroom roots are called mycelium, and they’re a different sort of root than what you typically see at the bottom of most plants and trees. Mycelium is a root-like structure of fungus made of a mass of branching, thread-like strands called hyphae. The hyphae absorb nutrients from the soil or another substrate so the fungus can grow.
Companies are using mycelium as a base for all sorts of vegan materials, from packaging to leather to biomedical scaffolds. It’s a viable ingredient both because it’s easy to manipulate—the nutrients in the substrate it’s grown on can be tweaked to yield different properties, like making it stiffer or more flexible—and because it grows fast; Meati says its proprietary growth formula can turn a teaspoon of spores into the equivalent of hundreds of cows’ worth of whole-food protein in just a few days.
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