Colorado-based MycoTechnolgy closed out 2022 with major distribution announcements and ambitions for growth and commercial expansion in the new year. In early 2023, the company announced that it had overcome the final hurdle to enter the European market with FermentIQ, its fermented vegetable protein, which has now received novel food approval from the European Food Safety Agency.
The development means that all three formats of FermentIQ – ground, protein powder and textured protein – are now commercially available in Europe through the company or its distributor, Brenntag.
This is significant, as the ingredient is said to take a multi-pronged approach to solving some of the main problems with alternative dairy products, including masking unpleasant notes, improving texture and increasing digestibility and protein content – all in one product.
FermentIQ is formulated with a blend of peas and rice that is fermented using shiitake mushroom mycelium in a proprietary process. All essential amino acids are represented during the process, making it a complete protein.
The final solution is said to be superior to unfermented proteins in both functionality and protein quality – MycoTechnology claims that FermentIQ is two and a half times more soluble than unfermented pea and rice blends, twice as soluble as pea protein and more than eight times more soluble than rice protein . Mycelial fermentation also improves protein digestibility, allowing purity label claims and high protein claims.
For alternative milk drinks, the ingredient could deliver higher levels of protein; for spreads and sauces, can help with emulsification stability for a smoother, creamier product; and in cheese, FermentIQ can mask unpleasant notes, providing a neutral flavor base.
A spokesperson for MycoTechnology said: “We hope we can help raise the bar in terms of taste and nutritional quality in the alternative dairy sector. Taste is a major driver for consumers, and FermentIQ overcomes common barriers to enable creamier, cleaner-tasting products. Our ingredients also allow for higher levels of protein inclusion, increased solubility and improved digestibility, resulting in alternative dairy products that can better compete with animal products.”
The need for innovation
While plant-based proteins have become widespread in the production of plant-based alternatives, completely masking traces of vegetable flavor is still an obstacle for food manufacturers. Meanwhile, consumers have repeatedly emphasized that good taste is the most important thing if they want to include plant-based foods in their diet.
Proprietary research conducted by the goods and ingredients company ofi showed that 35% of consumers in key European markets did not find an alternative product that met their expectations, while 8% did not return to the category at all after a bad initial experience. The verdict is simple – bring plant-based foods with better functional and taste properties or risk the category’s growth potential.
While plant-based alternatives to milk are well established, other segments such as vegan cheese need to catch up. Delivering dairy-like textures and flavors has proven a barrier to wider consumer acceptance, prompting dairy giants including Danone, Bel Group and FrieslandCampina to consider precision fermentation as a way to produce non-animal proteins that can provide enhanced functionality in vegan cheeses . But MycoTechnology’s fermented protein could potentially offer another solution.
“Most plant-based cheese products are difficult to optimize taste, creaminess and meltability,”, said the representative of the American company. “FermentIQ produces a creamier plant-based cheese with a clean flavor base, better melting properties and best-in-class texture.
“Plant-based spreads and sauces often present textural difficulties such as graininess and poor emulsification. FermentIQ has good emulsification stability, providing a clear emulsion on the label, and its high solubility results in a smoother, creamier product.”
‘Great opportunities’ in Europe
According to Statista, the plant-based dairy alternative market in the EU had an estimated value of around USD 2.3 billion in 2020 and is forecast to reach USD 4.6 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, the plant-based milk market is more lucrative than the meat segment, valued at around €700 million (US €747 million) more according to the market research agency.
“The European plant-based market continues to grow at a rapid pace, and there is increasing consumer demand for better-tasting, more nutritious products.” said the representative of MycoTechnology. “This is an ideal market for FermentIQ, as it addresses many key challenges, and we are fully prepared to meet these high expectations.”
While a company representative remained tight-lipped about ongoing product innovation with FermentIQ, they said: “There have been many exciting developments with leading market partners across the dairy alternative space. This includes milk, cheese and butter products.
“There is tremendous market opportunity in Europe, and with this new approval, we are excited to be able to offer the same superior products to European consumers.”
FermentIQ samples can now be requested in Europe directly through MycoTechnology or the company’s distributor, Brenntag.