Farms to Fungi to Food: Growing the Next Generation of Alternative Protein

Lin Cao, biological and agricultural (BAE) engineering doctoral student and Ruihong Zhang, project lead and professor of BAE
From left: Lin Cao, biological and agricultural (BAE) engineering doctoral student and Ruihong Zhang, project lead and professor of BAE taste test "myco-foods," grown from the nutrients of agricultural byproducts. (Jael Mackendorf/UC Davis)

Farms to Fungi to Food: Growing the Next Generation of Alternative Protein

A solution to world hunger might start with boba and caviar.

Using an innovative process, engineers at UC Davis are growing “myco-foods” — small balls of edible fungi that can be processed into products like boba and lab-grown caviar with a wide range of textures, colors and flavors. These myco-foods, grown from the nutrients of agricultural byproducts like coffee grounds and almond hulls, provide an important new source of protein to feed the world.

Agricultural byproducts often contain many of the same nutrients as the main products, so re-using them reduces waste while adding more value to the existing materials.

“Generally, these byproducts go to composting or a digester, but I think this gives us one more option,” said biological and agricultural engineering doctoral student Lin Cao. “Fungi can use all kinds of byproducts, which is very good because we can produce food sustainably and also lower the cost of fungal cultivation.”

Eating fungi is nothing new, as mushrooms are a staple of diets around the world, but the team still thinks it has untapped potential. Myco-foods are rich in protein and can be cultivated anywhere using a fraction of the space required for traditional agriculture. Project lead and Professor Ruihong Zhang, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, thinks they will eventually be important for developing countries that need food production to catch up with growing populations.

“We’re very efficient in terms of energy and water, and we’re not influenced by climate to set up fermenters, so it could be set up to produce anywhere in the world,” she said.

Read the full article and watch the video at UC Davis News

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