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Research on fungi behind technology for new sustainable meat substitute

March 6, 2023

For more than 20 years, researchers at the University of Borås in Sweden have studied filamentous fungi and their ability to convert residual material into new products and applications, such as ethanol, animal feed, pigments, textiles and plastics. One focus in recent years has been food.

“Over the years, we have researched many products and collaborated with industry," said Mohammad Taherzadeh, Professor of Bioprocess Technology at the University of Borås, and research leader in the Resource Recovery research area. "The most important thing we have focused on is mycelium (fungus) as an alternative to meat, where we have succeeded in developing a concept with smart technical scalability and economic viability together with success-driven industrialists.”

The hybrid product, which is a mixture of mycelium and oats, is called Millow. Work is now underway to launch the first products on the Nordic market. Taherzadeh explained that he currently contributes technical knowledge to the company (which has the same name as the product). He believes that the university's long-standing research will contribute to the development of a new category of health food and sustainable meat substitutes that are not ultra-processed.

“The technique is based on a new preparation of fungus and cereals that provides an advanced texture without any food binders thanks to the natural properties of the mushrooms,” Taherzadeh added.

Millow is chaired by Staffan Hillberg, an investor in companies that improve the environment.

“Mohammad Taherzadeh has developed a world-first, sustainable production technology that uses one-third as much energy, more than 2% of the water used and saves 95% of carbon dioxide compared to traditional technology. In addition, it requires a significantly lower investment," Hillberg said.

“Given the extensive debate about multi-processed and unhealthy vegan food, it feels particularly good to invest in a technology that creates healthy vegan food, complete with all the fibre, minerals, vitamins, proteins and other substances the body needs," Hillberg added.

The company has worked with graphic designer Rob Janoff who has, among other things, designed the Apple logo.

“Climate change is a reality and we are seeing it change our lives like never before," Janoff said. "Working with the management team at Millow, I was impressed by how proficient they were at conceiving of a food product concept and making the idea a reality. My goal is to help my friends at Millow become a well-known brand of alternative meat products. In this way I feel that I am making a small contribution toward saving the environment and the planet. Making meat alternatives popular is one small way I can make a difference as a designer. The more Millow can be used to help preserve Earth's limited resources, the closer we will be to a long and peaceful future for generations to come.”

Taherzadeh sees commercialization as an opportunity for further development and research for the university. “When Millow grows, it will be a platform for us to develop new fungus products. Such a development is only possible when industry becomes involved in our research. We are world leaders in fungus research but have a long way to go in this area, and I hope to see healthier meat substitute alternatives on the shelves by 2024 for those who want to consume less animal products.

He is delighted that fungus research is now reaching the next milestone, as the most common outcome of the research that is otherwise conducted is research articles.

“Usually 0.1% of research become commercial. The fact that this is happening with our fungus research is proof that we have succeeded," concluded Taherzadeh.

The fungus grows on material such as grain or vegetables but also on various residual material such as bread and forms a fungal biomass. From that biomass we can then make new products, in this case a healthy and planet-friendly alternative to meat.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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