What is Meati's star ingredient, mycelium?
Mycelium, the mushroom-related bundle of branching fungi filaments, has helped feed human beings for centuries.
In the song "Brilliant Mycelium" by Beautiful Chorus, the musicians describe Meati's star ingredient this way:
"We're beneath your surface, an underground universe that's thriving, fully alive, sensitive, resilient. We're everywhere. We're brilliant mycelium."
We agree: Mycelium, the mushroom-related bundle of branching fungi filaments individually known as hyphae, is indeed brilliant. There are many reasons why. It is an ancient, fibrous, and fabulous organism that underpins the development of life on Earth. It is an underground information network behind the "wood wide web." It is the largest known living thing. It is a networked ballet of tubular fibers, a superhighway of nutrients, a miracle of mycorrhiza.
Just like a tree grows roots to find nourishment in the soil, fungi produce the thread-like structure known as mycelium to seek out nutrients. You can find mycelia — the plural form of mycelium — in forest floors, in the ocean, in farmer's soil, and just about anywhere this miraculously adaptable living network can find energy to drive its growth. At Meati, you can find it submerged in big steel tanks holding nutrient-rich water and mycelium's favorite snack, sugar.
Not all mycelia are the same. There are countless species and strains within the fungi kingdom. Some produce fruiting bodies, which we all know as mushrooms. Some produce mycotoxins to help them counter threats they might find in their environment. Meati's mycelium does not make either.
This has a few implications. A big one, and something you may be worried about, is that a lack of mycotoxins means our mycelium requires no extra purification treatments and is completely safe to eat (not to mention delicious, nutritious, and environmentally smart).
Still concerned? How about this: Mycelium, Meati's included, has been used in human diets for centuries. The filamentous fungi Aspergillus oryzae is behind sake, miso, and many other foods and drinks. Tempeh, eaten by millions of people around the globe, is an ancient food made of soybeans fermented with Rhizopus oligosporus. And have you ever tried products from Quorn, Prime Roots, Bosque Foods, or MyForest? Those companies also use mycelium. (Go ahead and give them a shot — we believe you'll like Meati better!)
And though we hate to burst everyone's bubble, , calling Meati "mushroom meat" is technically incorrect. Meat's star ingredient, again, doesn't produce any mushrooms. You also may be wondering why we describe mycelium as "mushroom root". We just said Meati's mycelium does not generate those fruiting bodies common to grocery store aisles, so what gives?
Our goal is to make it easy and speedy for you to make smart decisions about your food, so we wanted to lean on familiar terms that lay out the critical information at a glance. "Mushroom root" ticks those boxes. For one, it tells you which kingdom our food comes from. At the same time, it tells you Meati is made of the fibrous network that underlies the fruiting body we call mushroom. If you think of mycelium being like the roots of an apple tree, then mushrooms would be akin to apples. To make everyone feel better, it's worth pointing out that even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes some liberties here: It refers to mushrooms as plants, even though they are part of a different biological kingdom.
Now that we've cleared that up, you're probably wondering: Where did Meati's mycelium come from? We'd love to spill all our secrets, but to protect our business, we can't. Not yet. What we can tell you is that our mycelium can be found in the burned areas left in the wake of wildfires. It was one of thousands of species and strains of fungi our founders went through to find the one that is incredibly nutritious, efficient to grow, flavor flexible, textured just right, and safe. We'd tell you the name, but that's proprietary information, too.
Another part of what makes Meati's mycelium so special is its incredible ability to take what plants do best — produce energy in the form of sugar — and efficiently convert it into a complete-protein whole food that ends up free of sugar, low in cholesterol, barely processed (NOVA group one), easily absorbed, and packed with fiber and vitamins.
Meati does all of this using less water, less land, and less energy than is required by other converters of plant energy into a powerful protein source for people: cows, chickens, and other animals. For carnivores worried about the eating experience, Meati's nuanced texture, naturally generated by its fibrous happy hyphae, has some meat-eaters saying it would be very difficult to tell that animals have nothing to do with it.
Given mycelium's characteristics, it is remarkable that it hasn't become a staple of people's diets around the globe. This is a natural, nutrient-rich food with a low environmental impact that was made for an era of vanishing arable land, rapidly depleting fresh water supplies, and existential threats to the environment. The world needs to transform how it feeds itself. It is not enough for new foods to just be good for the planet. They have to taste great without sacrificing healthiness. Meati, driven by mycelium, can be a powerful part of changing our food system. Will you join the evolution?
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