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Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Nature Fynd’s Breakthrough Method

The Fynd

Fresh content for optimists.

Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Nature Fynd’s Breakthrough Method

by Nicole P.

Fermented foods and drinks have been around for thousands of years but have gained recent acclaim for their incredible health benefits. You probably enjoy fermented delights more often than you’d think: cheese, bread, wine, beer, and kimchi are just a few popular examples!

These days, the fermentation space is expanding to a whole new area—fungi and microbes.

Some companies are harnessing the power of fermentation to create alternative proteins from fungi. Since the 1980s, they’ve been using the same tactic employed for making beer: an age-old method called submerged fermentation that requires tanks of water. 

Our scientists here at Nature’s Fynd saw an opportunity to reimagine this process in a more sustainable way. To make our nutritional fungi protein, Fy™, we also ferment fungi, but do so using an entirely new method that uses a fraction of land, water, and energy compared to processing traditional proteins and it’s called liquid-air interface fermentation.

The story really starts back in 2009. While our Chief Science Officer and Co-founder Mark Kozubal was researching extremophiles in Yellowstone National Park for NASA, he discovered a remarkable fungal microbe in the hot springs. Mark was able to isolate the microbe without harming the park environment and his research led to the creation of Fy. Much like a sourdough starter that self-replicates, the original samples collected are all we’ll ever need to continue making our fungi-based protein—so Yellowstone visits are pure vacation fun instead of a requirement of our production cycle.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here! Let’s jump into the basics of fermentation first, then we’ll tell you all about our Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation so you know exactly how we grow Fy Protein™.

What is fermentation?

The process of fermentation has been pivotal throughout history in creating everything from food to medicine.

In terms of food, anaerobic fermentation transforms existing materials into energy without the presence of oxygen. The gist of the process is turning sugars and carbohydrates in food into something new. Juice becomes wine; grains to beer; and the sugars in dough turn into carbon dioxide to leaven bread—all from the action of natural microorganisms like fungi.

Here are some common fermented foods and beverages you might know and love:

  • Cheese
  • Sourdough bread
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Kimchi
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Miso
  • Tempeh

When talking about the fermentation of the fungi used at Nature’s Fynd, we like to think about the process as microbes eating and colonizing the feedstock (source material) that they are given, thereby creating the end product in a short amount of time with no wasted resources. The magical end result is Fy, a complete protein with all twenty amino acids including the nine essential ones.

Fermentation is extremely underrated yet super important because it turns microbes into products that have a higher nutritional value and health benefits like aiding in digestion and supporting the immune system, and it can create tons of different types of food more sustainably than growing crops or raising livestock.

Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation

When it comes to our patented fermentation methodologies, the fungi we use to make Fy is the star of the show. It has many special properties that make it suitable to create delicious and sustainable foods.

Meet Fusarium strain flavolapis

What makes the fungi Mark discovered so special? Fusarium strain flavolapis (named after its place of origin: flavo” is latin for Yellow” and lapis” means stone) is unique even among other Fusarium fungi.

Fungi in the Fusarium genus are composed of a web of filaments called hyphae that create huge networks called mycelium. The mycelium form mats that have the structure, feel, and look of raw chicken when enabled to grow in a certain way, like with well-suited fermentation. Developing mycelium is the key to forming the innate texture in fungi-based foods.

Where Fusarium strain flavolapis stands out is where it started out: the Yellowstone hot springs.

The resilience the microbe developed in its extreme environment helps sustainably maintain food safety standards throughout Fy’s fermentation. Bacteria that might otherwise lead to foodborne illnesses can’t survive the incredibly acidic conditions F. strain flavolapis naturally thrives in, meaning we can let it grow as it would naturally without pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or preservatives.

Another advantage of its origin is that F. strain flavolapis evolved to eat just about anything that happened to fall into its hot springs. Most strains of Fusarium are far more picky eaters. This means we can grow Fy Protein on many different feedstocks, so we have fewer constraints in scaling up our production in diverse areas of the world with unique or few resources. We’re even exploring the possibility of a completely closed system for space application where waste from the mission is broken down as feedstock for the microbe to supply fresh-grown Fy for astronauts!

Fermentation Picky Eater

Novel fermentation

Our breakthrough fermentation process is so revolutionary that we were awarded 40 patents covering our methods, Fy protein itself, and Fy food products.

Instead of employing the same techniques that have generated cheese or beer for centuries, we innovated a method that only Nature’s Fynd uses called Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation (liquid surface fermentation). Go ahead and nerd out about this, we’re right there with ya. 

Despite the sciencey name, Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation is inspired by the simplicity of nature. It’s one of the most resource-efficient routes to making high-quality proteins.

Compared to beef, Fy can be grown using*:

  • 99% less land
  • 99% less water
  • emitting 94% fewer greenhouse gases
  • zero methane emissions
  • minimal waste

We can also grow Fy 365 days a year with no need for rain, sun, or soil. Due to its incredible efficiency and because we can scale vertically (liquid surface fermentation takes place in trays that can be stacked in racks), we can create more Fy Protein per acre of land than other animal protein sources.

By fermenting F. strain flavolapis to make Fy, we can produce the same amount of protein over the course of a year as half a million chickens. Fy is 8x more efficient than chicken production in terms of edible product per acre. Pretty cool, right? 

Fermentation Productivity

Given that we’re making a new-to-world protein, it’s only natural that you may have questions about how our foods are created. We want our relationship with customers to be different from current food production systems..

Bill Weir said it best in the CNN special Future of Food” when talking to our CEO Thomas Jonas about our manufacturing processes: I can’t get a camera into a slaughterhouse in this country, and meatpacking plants won’t let us anywhere near to see where our food really comes from, and you’re going the other way, you’re letting people in.”

So are you ready to get let in?

Step-by-step process

Let’s start with an overview of our novel liquid-surface fermentation method. You need Fusarium strain flavolapis and sources of carbon and nitrogen for the feedstock or liquid medium.

Trays are used to house the medium that helps our microbe grow, which is different from other fermentation methods where the microbes are fully submerged in liquid. Fusarium strain flavolapis then eats everything on the surface of the liquid medium, and once it finishes the surface liquid, it eats its way down to grow vertically, kind of a sponge absorbing water and growing larger as it takes everything in. 

There are six key stages in the process to grow Fy: preparation, inoculation, fermentation, harvest, deactivation, and dewatering.

Step 1: Preparation

The process begins in our microbiology lab with a small freezer of Fusarium str. flavolapis that can feed the world. The other raw materials used for the growth of Fusarium strain flavolapis into Fy Protein are common ingredients like nitrogen and carbon used in fermentation and enzyme production industries. 

Step 2: Inoculation

This step takes Fusarium str. flavolapis and combines it with the media, or liquid, in the fermenter. We feed the microbe a diet of simple carbohydrates and other nutrients to utilize as it grows into a complete protein. 

Step 3: Fermentation

Then, we grow Fy via fermentation of the culture in a growth chamber, a fancy term for Fy’s first home. Our 4‑story chamber has the perfect conditions to optimally grow a tray of Fy within 72 hours.

Step 4: Harvest

Once we grow Fy, it’s then ready for harvesting just like any other crop. The Fy formed is removed from the growth chamber using a series of simple steps to deliver a consistent and stable ingredient for all of our final food products.

Step 5: Deactivation

Fy is then naturally treated to finalize the ingredient, discontinuing further growth through steaming and rinsing off any remaining media.

Step 6: Dewatering

Fy is extremely versatile, so depending on what we are using it for, we can remove all the water to make a dried flour, add more water to create a liquid like milk, or maintain a moist biomass good for making alternative meats.

The possibilities for final food products are vast once we have Fy all ready to go!

Transparency in food production systems

Now, you know all about Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation and the making of our Fy Protein.

We’re currently producing Fy in our state-of-the-art facility in the Old Union Stockyards of Chicago, the former meatpacking capital of the world, but applying a radically transparent lens to our protein production processes.

There’s nothing scary to see here, except nature and science coming together to do its thing! 

One of the coolest things about our fermentation method is that, in a controlled growth environment and with the proper supplies, Fy could be grown just about anywhere, unlike crops or raising livestock. We see this as a huge opportunity for making environmentally-friendly and healthy food accessible wherever it might be needed, from disaster relief zones to urban food deserts.

We’re even working with NASA to experiment with growing Fy in space onboard the International Space Station…but that’s another story that you’ll have to stay tuned to hear! For now, you’re an expert on our Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation and that’s definitely a one small step for all, one giant leap for humankind’ scenario too.

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*Source: Fy environmental performance modeled at scale, 2021.