With so many consumers looking to improve their health without damaging the environment, it's no wonder meat substitutes are gaining in popularity. However, not all of them are plant-based. Fungi are gaining ground, both in the form of familiar mushrooms and in mycelium-based mycoprotein. Here are the five factors that suggest fungi-based meat may be the future of meat alternatives.
Low Resource Consumption and Low Emissions
Our diet is no longer just about health. People are becoming more and more concerned with environmental and social sustainability in the global food system. But unfortunately, traditional animal agriculture is rife with problems. For example, a tremendous amount of arable land goes to feed livestock, and enteric fermentation (animal gas) is a huge source of methane.
On the other hand, fungi-based meat substitutes require much less land and water than raising animal livestock. In addition, a "crop" of mycoprotein may take up to five weeks to grow, whereas cows take several years. Finally, some experts project that many fungi-based meat operations will be net positive by 2030, removing carbon and other environmental pollutants.
Contains the Nine Essential Proteins
Many animal protein advocates point out (rightly) that most plants are not complete protein sources. That is, they do not provide the nine essential amino acids our bodies cannot produce independently. Moreover, since plant protein can be difficult for our systems to break down, it is often less bioavailable than animal protein.
Fungi-based meat does not share this problem with plant-based meat. Instead, it is a complete protein source with a high bioavailability rating, making it an excellent alternative to beef or chicken for people concerned with meeting their protein needs.
Unprocessed Versions Can Boost Your Health
Aside from being a protein powerhouse, unprocessed fungi products are naturally low in fat and sodium, two things most commonly associated with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Of course, animal protein, particularly beef, often has large amounts of both sodium and fat. Even many other meat alternatives are highly processed, loaded with artificial flavorings, and coated in seed oils. Replacing them with mycoprotein may have far-reaching positive effects on health and longevity.
Contains Micronutrients Often Missing from Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Mycelium, the underground part of fungi, is rich in vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that our bodies need to stave off illness and operate at peak performance. Vitamin D is one of them, and it is notoriously hard to get from many foods. Fish is a notable exception, but not everyone has access to seafood. Of course, the sun is our primary source of vitamin D, but it is not available for much of the year, especially at higher latitudes. Mushrooms and mycelium pack a lot of it. For vegans and vegetarians, mycoprotein may have the vitamins and minerals missing from a plant-based diet, like B-12, B-9, selenium, iron, copper, and zinc.
Tastes and Feels More Like Meat
Fans of steak might love the meaty texture more than anything else. But unfortunately, for many, it's something no plant-based substitute can ever hope to replicate. The main reason? Meat is fibrous; plants are crunchy or mushy. As a result, many plant-based alternatives go through complex extrusion processes and receive artificial additives to alter their natural texture.
Fungi-based meat, however, is also fibrous. The mycelium is made up of a byzantine tangle of filaments called hyphae. They serve a similar function to a plant's roots, but when packed close, they have a similar texture to meat. Moreover, different species of fungi yield different textures, making it possible to find a fungal substitute for almost any cut.
- Check the Label – If you want to buy fungi-based meat, check whether there is added salt or other things that could impact your health. Some mycoprotein products receive the same flavorings as plant-based versions, and they are not all healthy—the more unprocessed, the better.
- Beware Allergies – Some people are allergic to fungi. Generally, they are not severe, but rare cases can be fatal, as with other food allergies. Mycoprotein allergies often show symptoms like hives, swollen eyes, itchy mouth, asthma, and vomiting.
- Grow Your Own – Many starter kits are available online, and Grow-it-Yourself communities abound. Enthusiasts maintain that growing your own mushrooms is comparable to having a vegetable garden.