Everything You Need to Know About Fungi-Based Proteins
Nature's Fynd Blog
Everything You Need to Know About Fungi-Based Proteins + How Fy Protein™ Stands Out
by Ethan A.
If you’ve ever topped or swapped your burger patty with mushrooms, you’re just starting to scratch the surface of the potential of fungi in foods.
Most people think of fungi-based foods only in terms of the cremini, shitake, and other mushrooms used in cooking. Or perhaps you recognize the fungi in your bread, beer, and yeast. Some even imagine a mushroom cap when they think of fungi; however, that’s just one part of fungi called the fruiting body.
So why are we writing about fungi? Here at Nature’s Fynd, we make Fy™, our nutritional fungi protein, by fermenting the fungal microbe named Fusarium strain flavolapis.
A couple of things to set straight before jumping into the details—all mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. The microbe we use to make Fy is a fungus but not a mushroom.
Still with us?
Let’s dig into what makes fungi unique as alternative proteins, how the creation process is informed by—and kind to—nature, and how they stack up as a potential nutritious part of your diet. We’ll also uncover why Fy Protein™ is unique, even amongst the fantastic fungi-based category.
Fungi-based proteins explained
The world of alternative proteins is large and easy to get lost in, especially when the term “plant-based proteins” is increasingly thrown around.
A key fungi fundamental: they’re not plants!
Scientists used to group fungi with plants (grocery stores still do!) before recategorizing them into their own scientific kingdom. But you can find fungi far beyond your local produce aisle—they’re a type of microorganism, or microbe, that can be found in just about any habitat.
That’s thanks to mycelium in the case of the filamentous Fusarium genus of the fungi kingdom. Mycelium’s vast networks of hyphae (the thread-like filaments that inform the fungi’s name) react to changes in their ecosystem and produce growth structures to match, which create a texture that can resemble animal meat! Mycelium also acts as a kind of underground internet or “wood-wide web,” sharing nutrients and information across neighboring trees, bushes, and more.
The mycelium of filamentous fungi serve the same purpose in the alternative protein industry as they do in nature: delivering a complete nutrient profile.
Different species of Fusarium fungi may be found across the meat alternative space. In fact, Fusarium strain venenatum has been employed since the 1980s whereas the microbe we use at Nature’s Fynd, Fusarium strain flavolapis is a newer, exciting discovery for fungi-based foods. You might see fungi-based proteins referred to as mycoprotein (based on the Greek work “mykes” for fungus), meatless meat, or even mislabeled as plant-based protein—but mycelium by any other name is just as mighty.
Creating sustainable food
Science is often at its best when it reveals solutions to problems that already exist in nature.
That’s the case with fungi-based foods. The process behind this alternative protein replicates the way these organisms grow in their natural environments—and it’s called fermentation.
You’ve probably heard of fermentation where sugars and carbs in a food convert into something else; like when juice turns into wine or milk into cheese. An organism transforms what it’s fed into nutrients.
Sound familiar? Fermentation is part of our digestion process too—that’s where discussions of beneficial microbes and a healthy gut microbiome come from. When we consume animal protein, we’re basically hijacking the work of the animal’s digestion and intaking the amino acids and nutrients the animals have already converted from their diet.
Traditional plant-based meat and dairy alternatives need that work done prior to their appearance on your plate. Many plant-based meat alternatives on the market extract the protein from the plant but leave its other nutrients behind, transforming it from one form (whole food from plant) into another (isolated or concentrated plant protein).
Fungi fermentation is different.
Rather than isolating protein, the fermentation process grows a net-new protein. Fungi are fed simple nutrients to grow dense networks of mycelium that become the eventual end-product of different fungi-based foods.
Fungi as a source of protein essentially offer a shortcut through the food chain. Directly converting its food through fermentation doesn’t require the acres of land or water needed to support plant growth or animal grazing, making fungi-based protein more efficient to produce than other options.
Here at Nature’s Fynd, we developed a proprietary fermentation technique to complement the spectacular properties of Fusarium strain flavolapis that’s even more efficient than traditional methods and can be used anywhere—we’re even testing growing Fy in space!
Flavor and nutrition benefits of fungi
You might have a mushroom taste in mind, but fungi have their own unique flavor profiles and nutrient qualities when developed into protein alternatives. Our Fy fungi is actually naturally neutral-flavored, which can make it incredibly versatile in its food applications. That’s how Nature’s Fynd is able to make vegan cream cheese and breakfast sausage with our fungi-based Fy Protein.
As a newer player among alternative proteins, the body of research on fungi-based proteins is still growing but shows they’re not just dense in mycelium structure, but nutritional benefits as well!
Historically studied as mycoproteins, fungi-based protein consumption has shown promising effects on lowering cholesterol and improving glycemic control in preliminary studies. They’re naturally free of cholesterol, contain little to no fat, and are packed with vitamins and minerals.
We’ll speak best to the nutritional content of mycoproteins through our nutritious fungi protein, Fy.
Fy contains more protein and fiber per calorie than any animal or plant source, with the fiber coming from naturally occurring beta-glucans and prebiotic fiber. But what about amino acids?
If you’ve tried vegan or vegetarian eating, you know that a variety of protein alternatives are often required in order to get the essential amino acids we need from our diet.
Fy Protein is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids—the ones we have to get from our diets because our bodies can’t produce these internally—and the other 11 amino acids that our bodies can make. Plus it boasts impressive nutritional value: Fy has 50% more protein than tofu, twice as much as raw peas, and only a tenth of the fat and 30x less sodium than ground beef.
Part of the benefit of Fy and other fungi-based products’ fermentation is that they produce net-new proteins. Compared to the isolates and concentrates of plant-based proteins, fungi-based proteins like Fy are highly digestible and their protein content is easily absorbed.
Studies also found fungi-based proteins to be a low allergen risk, making it a great alternative to historical vegan options like tofu or tempeh which contain soy, or seitan which contains wheat/gluten.
All of these findings, along with the environmental benefits of fungi-based proteins, have the nutritional science community eager to learn more through continued research studies.
How Fy Protein™ compares to fungi, plant-based proteins, and other alternative proteins
The world of alternative proteins is growing larger every day, which is great news for tackling the problem of global food security caused by the expanding population and shrinking resources—but it’s a world that can be hard to navigate without a good guide.
A key difference between fungi-based proteins and most plant-based proteins is that many plant-based proteins are made by isolating protein from plants. But while plant proteins are more sustainable than meat, they still require a lot of land and water, and they’re difficult to make into things that look and feel like meat.
Plant-based proteins also rely on traditional agricultural cycles. Soybean and pea crops take months to mature and, under most circumstances, their development is limited to specific growing seasons. Fermenting fungi-based proteins is independent of traditional seasonal cycles.
Fungi-based proteins aren’t cell-based meat either, they’re a true vegan protein source.
Fy stands out from other fungi-based products and protein alternatives thanks largely to the discovery of Fusarium strain flavolapis and Nature Fynd’s novel liquid-air interface fermentation method. This powerhouse combo gives us an incredibly sustainable, nutritious, and versatile protein that can be produced anywhere.
Learn more about Fy’s journey, from its incredible origins in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring to its future place on your plate.