Cutting out animal products from our diets is catching on with more and more people, whether for health or environmental reasons, so there is an increasing hunger for alternative protein sources. Investors such as Bill Gates and NASA have put their money where their mouth is to back a company making food out of a fungus from Yellowstone National Park hot springs.
Nature’s Fynd (originally named Sustainable Bioproducts) co-founder Mark Kozubal, who is also the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, was originally a PhD student researching extremophiles (organisms that can live in extreme environmental conditions) in Yellowstone National Park. Samples of a micro-organism were collected from a hot spring during this project, and this eventually became the basis of this new food source.
This micro-organism is a fungus named Fusarium strain flavolapis (if eating food made from fungus gives you the ick, you probably shouldn't look up how a lot of processed meat is made). While this is not the first fungus-based meat alternative – Quorn has been serving up their mycoprotein for decades – this one is certainly intriguing. Nature’s Fynd claims that their products contain all 20 amino acids and 50 percent more protein than tofu. This is very handy for people on a vegan diet who have to make sure that their diet both has enough protein and also contains all the essential amino acids that the human body needs. The products currently listed on their website are breakfast patties and cream cheese.
The company was founded in 2012, and has since raised $158 million in funding. One backer is Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund led by Bill Gates and with investors such as Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg. The company has also received financial support from NASA, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The company says it has developed a fermentation method to make the fungus into a food source “without the need for sun, rain, or soil.” They claim that “in just a few days, the filaments grow and interlace, forming a mat with a texture similar to muscle fiber.” After this, the resulting product, called Fy™, can be made into a solid, liquid, or powder. Nature’s Fynd also says that Fy™ can be made in space, which explains why NASA is interested.
Nature’s Fynd also says that their products are better for the environment, using less greenhouse gases and water than other protein sources. It is also more efficient with land use, being 3.6 times more efficient than animals and 1.4 times more efficient than plants in terms of protein generated per acre – using a staggering 99 percent less land than beef production.