Research into food that can grow in space could help feed this planet. Fy, a nutritional fungi protein made by Nature’s Fynd, began as a NASA project to find out what kind of environment it would make sense to look for some form of life in. Nature’s Fynd is now planning to provide a small production system to grow the alternative protein in the International Space Station.
First of all, Fy is fungi– not a plant or animal – and it's a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, which is rare outside of the animal world. The only two types of organisms on the planet that can make net new protein are plants and microbes. Agriculture that grows edible protein has been using the same technology – farming plants – for about 11,000 years. You, me, the cow, and the chicken – we repurpose and reorganize protein, but we don't make net new protein. The cow is really a battery. It concentrates the low-protein food it eats in its body. We then eat the cow to get the concentrated protein. But now, we are farming microorganisms to harvest protein.
Secondly, this organism is not a picky eater, which makes it very efficient. Typically, it feeds on glycerin from soy, though corn would work as well. We take the least-valuable fraction of things that are grown, and we can turn one ton of sugar into two tons of meat-like alternative protein. If you step back and look at protein and agriculture, the number one challenge today is lack of efficiency. About 90% of what you put in the front of the cow goes out of the back of the cow. So: Cows are not efficient; microbes are very efficient. That's fundamentally what we're doing.
Thirdly, in a regular environment, a microorganism has to compete with all sorts of other microbes. We are using an extremophile organism that grows in a medium where it is difficult for most organisms to survive, so the number of competitors is drastically reduced. We invented what we call “liquid-air interface fermentation.” We push the organism to set itself up as a colony on the surface of liquid in a tray.
Because it tastes good! And there’s a biological reason for that - we all evolved from a time when it was very easy to eat mushrooms. If you’re a hunter-gatherer, they’re easier to catch than a rabbit. Therefore, we and other animals are very well equipped to digest this sort of protein. Over the past few weeks, we've done probably between 10,000 and 15,000 individual tastings – in a truck on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, and at a bunch of football games. Out of those, we had about five people who said, “No, I don't want to eat your stuff because it's fungi protein.”
On day one, we launched both a dairy product and a meat alternative – a cream cheese and a breakfast patty – because we want people to see that we can do both. We're an alternative protein platform, which means we can do a large number of different things: dog food, ice cream, pasta. We're trying to find categories, where there is a frustration that we can solve. A lot of plant-based cheese doesn’t taste great, for example. And people love that our breakfast patties have so much protein while being much lower in fat than classic breakfast sausage patties. Going forward, we will go for bigger categories. My goal is that, in a few years, you go to a restaurant for lunch, order a salad, and the waiter asks you what protein you want with it: chicken, salmon, or Fy?
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