Mushroom milk? What MycoTechnology’s Novel Food nod means for alt dairy

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Ralf Menache
GettyImages/Ralf Menache

Related tags plant-based Dairy Dairy alternatives Cheese Milk Protein mycelium

The US company’s fermented plant-based protein can at once improve flavors, textures and digestibility while enabling clean-label and high-protein label claims. Here's what manufacturers should know.

Colorado-based MycoTechnolgy wrapped 2022 with major distribution announcements and ambitions for growth and commercial expansion during the new year. At the start of 2023, the company announced it has overcome the final hurdle to entering the European market with FermentIQ, its fermented plant-based protein, which has now received Novel Food approval by the European Food Safety Authority.

The development means that all three formats of FermentIQ – milled, protein powder and texturized protein – are now commercially available in Europe through the company or its distributor, Brenntag.

This is significant, because the ingredient has been said to use a multi-pronged approach to solving some of alt dairy’s major issues, including masking off-notes, improving textures and boosting digestibility and protein content – all through a single product.

FermentIQ is formulated with a pea and rice blend that’s fermented by shiitake mushroom mycelia in a proprietary process. All essential amino acids are represented during the process, making this a complete protein.

The final solution is said to be superior to unfermented proteins in both functionality and protein quality - MycoTechnology claims FermentIQ is two and half times more soluble than unfermented pea and rice blends, twice as soluble as pea protein, and more than eight times as soluble as rice protein. The mycelial fermentation also improves the digestibility of the protein, allowing for both clean-label and high-protein label claims.

For alternative dairy beverages, the ingredient could bring higher levels of protein; for spreads and sauces, it can help with emulsification stability for a smoother, creamier product; and in cheese, FermentIQ can mask off-notes, providing a neutral-tasting base.

A spokesperson for MycoTechnology said: “Our hope is that we can help to raise the bar in terms of taste and nutritional quality in the alt dairy space. Taste is the top driver for consumers, and FermentIQ overcomes common obstacles to enable creamier, cleaner tasting products. Our ingredients also allow for higher levels of protein inclusion, increased solubility and improved digestibility, resulting in alt dairy products that can better compete with animal-based products.”

The need for innovation

While plant-derived proteins have become widespread in the production of plant-based alternatives, masking traces of vegetable flavors completely is still something of a hurdle for food producers. Consumers, meanwhile, have time and again pointed out that good flavor is paramount if they are to include plant-based foods in their diet.

Proprietary research carried out by commodities and ingredient company ofi​ found that 35% of consumers in key European markets haven’t come across an alternative product that matches their expectations, while 8% have not returned to the category at all following a bad initial experience. The verdict is simple - bring plant-based foods with better functional and taste properties, or risk the category’s growth potential.

While plant-based milk alternatives have become well-established, other segments like vegan cheese have catching up to do. Delivering dairy-like textures and flavors has proved to be a barrier to wider consumer adoption, prompting dairy giants including Danone, Bel Group and FrieslandCampina to consider precision fermentation as a way to produce non-animal proteins that can deliver improved functionality in vegan cheeses. But MycoTechnology’s fermented protein could potentially offer another solution.

“Most plant-based cheese products struggle to optimize flavor, creaminess and meltability,​” the US company’s representative said. “FermentIQ produces a creamier plant-based cheese with a clean flavor base, better melting properties and best-in-class texture.

“Plant-based spreads and sauces often present textural difficulties such as grittiness and poor emulsification. FermentIQ has good emulsification stability, providing clean-label emulsification, and its high solubility produces a smoother, creamier product.”

‘Huge opportunities’ in Europe

According to Statista, the plant-based dairy alternatives market in the EU had an estimated value of around US$2.3bn in 2020 and is projected to reach US$4.6bn by 2025. Meanwhile, the plant-based milk market is more lucrative than the alt meat segment, valued at around €700m (US€747m) more according to the market research agency.

“The European plant-based market continues to grow at a fast pace, and there is increasing consumer demand for better-tasting, more nutritious products,”​ said MycoTechnology’s representative. "This is the ideal market for FermentIQ, as it solves a lot of key challenges, and we’re fully prepared to meet these high expectations.”

While the company representative remained coy about ongoing product innovation with FermentIQ, they said: “There has been a lot of exciting development with market-leading partners across the alt-dairy space. This includes milk, cheese and butter products.

“There are huge market opportunities in Europe, and with this new approval, we’re excited to bring the same superior products to European consumers.”

FermentIQ samples can be requested in Europe now directly through MycoTechnology or the company’s distributor, Brenntag.

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