Meatless meat: Swedish start-up owned by Keralite tickles palette


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Alternate meat users often complain that the substitute fails to contain fat and flavour of the conventional one. But a Swedish start-up, owned by a Kerala-born scientist, says its fungi-based meat fills the gap and takes meatless meat to the next level.

It developed new fungi to create protein and fat that is similar to animal protein and fat, enhancing the flavour and texture of vegan meat products. Conventional meat products are by-products of animal agriculture which results in slaughter of millions of animals and contributes enough greenhouse emission and destroys forests triggering demand for substitutes.

In March Gothenburg-based company Mycorena has raised US $26.8 million investment, one of Europe’s largest in alternate meat market, said its founder and CEO Ramkumar Nair, hailing from Kochi. The firm has developed a meat substitute protein named “promyc” from different types of fungi grown in their research units and largescale industrial facility, he said.

“Our aim is to find next-generation food ingredients that are healthy and climate-friendly and bring positive changes in our food system. Demand for vegan meat is on the rise and our vision is to build Mycorena into a global leader, driving the change,” he said.

Nair (33) left the country after his post-graduation from the Cochin University of Science and Technology in 2013 to pursue his PhD in Sweden. After completing his PhD in industrial fungal fermentation technology, he founded Mycorena in 2017, as a spin-out from his research at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. With the support from an internationally renowned group of investors in the field, the small start-up has now become one of the fastest- growing food technology companies in Europe.

Now his firm, with a team of over 60 people, mainly scientists, has developed 30 food products, created cutting-edge technologies and owns 10+ patents.

“The mycelium (root-like structure of fungus) of our fungi contains 60 per cent protein and 12% fibre which make it nutritious. Since mycelium is a fibrous material, it resembles animal muscle fibres. It also contains enough amino acids,” he said. A fungal organism can be divided into two parts, mycelium and fruiting body. Mushroom is the fruiting part while mycelium is a large fibrous structure found underground from where the fruiting body grows, he explained.

He said in many Nordic and European countries his firm is now supplying ingredients and building partnerships with large food companies. “We will use fresh funds for both, innovation and growth. We will also use it to build a first of its kind and globally unique promyc production plant,” he said adding many Indian food giants have also approached his firm. He said he will be proud to serve his country.

The global meat market is valued at US $1.33 trillion in 2021 and veg meat forms only 1.50 % of it now, but by 2030 it is expected to grow by 15 per cent due to mounting concern over climate change, greenhouse emission and health issues. According to Marketsandmarkets, plant-based meat market is projected to reach US $8.3 billion by 2025. With no methane emission from grazing animals and little damage to forests, meat-free proteins like soya, pea, mushroom and fungi are better for environment than farmed meat, vouch green activists.

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