Dhe brewery Bitburger will be working together with a young company from Hamburg. The North German start-up Mushlabs says it wants to revolutionize the market for meat alternatives with the help of cultivated mushroom mycelium. It is planned that Bitburger will provide the start-up with capacities and by-products from beer production in order to cultivate mycelium from edible mushrooms. The start-up wants to grow mushrooms, which is not about the fruiting body (i.e. the actual mushroom that is sold in the supermarket), but about its very fine roots, the cotton-like mycelium, the fungal network that usually grows underground. New meat substitute products are to be produced from this. “Most meat substitutes are plant-based, but we use mushrooms,” says Mushlabs development director Thibault Godard.
Bitburger provides the company with underutilized systems such as boilers and tanks, which, according to the young biotech start-up, can be converted relatively easily for the liquid fermentation of mycelium from edible mushrooms, because the fermentation process in a brewery is similar to the process for mycelial fermentation.
In addition, Bitburger supplies by-products from beer production, which up to now have only been used as animal feed. The fungi grow in the tanks in a nutrient solution made from water and the leftovers from beer production. The fungi metabolize the residues into a biomass that is later processed into food. Because there is no need to wait for the edible mushroom to form the fruiting bodies, the process is faster than conventional cultivation of edible mushrooms. Mushlabs tested the technology they developed themselves at the Technical University of Hamburg and later also on a trial basis on their own premises. Now the industrial production at Bitburger is to be tested.
Market entry still unclear
Mushlabs would like to patent the process, and the process is currently underway, a spokesman said. In doing so, they also want to “make a contribution to the circular economy in Europe,” according to a statement by the Hamburg start-up. The company does not want to reveal which type of mushroom it works with, only that it is one of the usual edible mushrooms that are also sold in supermarkets.
Mushlabs founder Mazen Rizk came up with the idea. The 36-year-old Lebanese founded the company in 2018 after studying at the TU Hamburg and spending a long time there with yeast and fungi. He considers mushroom roots a “natural superfood” with a high protein content, important fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, it is still unclear when Mushlabs’ meat substitute will come onto the market: “As soon as possible,” says a spokesman when asked. The approval process for the novel food is still ongoing: “We could get started at any time, but we’re not allowed to yet.” Therefore, no date can be given for the market launch.
The Bitburger brewery group had already invested money in the Hamburg start-up at the end of 2019 – but the amount was not revealed: “We are always looking for ways to improve the sustainability of our production process,” says Bitburger Technical Director Jan Niewodniczanski. According to Mushlabs, it currently has almost 50 permanent employees, so far the company has not made any sales.
A few years ago, a brewery tried to grow mushrooms with leftovers from beer production – at that time, however, it was not about novel foods, but only about conventional mushroom production. At that time, the Flensburg brewery used leftover malt, the so-called spent grain, for growing mushrooms and shiitake. a “Glückspilz-GmbH” was set up specifically for this purpose. In the end there were actually a lot of mushrooms, but Flensburger couldn’t keep up with the competition from abroad. The project was reinstated.