15: The Renaissance of fungi in food tech - co-founder Isabella Iglesias-Musachio
Updated: Jan 19
Isabella is the co-founder and CEO at Bosque Foods, a company that aims to tackle the climate crisis through the lens of food.
Founded in 2021, Bosque Foods' mission is to create the best tasting and minimally processed, whole-cut meat and fish alternatives grown naturally from fungal mycelium.
Nurturing her passion for sustainability, Isabella studied sustainability and agriculture and offers decade-long experience in fermentation, and business management and strategy. She has spent her career building startups in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Leading tech startups to scale internationally, she has most recently helped ag-tech startup Infarm.
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What is Mycelium?
Mycelium is a network of fungal threads or hyphae. They are described as the 'heroes of the earth' (Micropia, 2023).
Contrary to what a majority of the population believes, these fungal organisms that we call mushrooms are made up of three different parts. The one we all know and eat is called the mushroom (fruiting body), and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Under the mushroom (fruiting body or cap) you'll find the spores (the seed) of the mushroom, which facilitate reproduction.
Then, there's mycelium / the root system or vegetative body of a mushroom. It is a dense mass of thread-like tissue filaments called hyphae. These web like structures spread into the substrate the fungus is growing on. This could be wood, soil, compost, coffee, sugar cane, or grains like rice and oats.
The purpose of the mycelium is to find and break down food sources in the substrate and collect nutrients and water for the final creation of the mushroom (realmushrooms.com, n.d.)
Mycelium contains vital nutrients, including proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals and consistently high levels of beta-glucans (immunity boosters). They also have a natural umami flavour - one of the five basic tastes, also commonly defined as 'savoury', and creates the ideal texture for replicating meat (Bosque Foods, 2023)
Source: Nate Crosser, 2021
Mycelium versus plant-based proteins
Often times mycelium and plant-based proteins are assumed to be the same. Though there are certain distinctions that can be outlined:
As a whole food ingredient mycelium-based products may appeal to consumers who prefer to consume alternative proteins that don’t require the processing associated with protein isolation.
In addition, growing mycelium is very efficient and requires significantly less land, water, and energy than growing traditional field crops (Food Institute, 2022)
Food fermentation is the process of creating food or changing the properties of food using microbes.
Many cultures started fermenting foods to preserve them. For example, fermenting vegetables allowed people living in places with harsh winters to eat them year-round.
Examples for fermented food: Cheese, Olives, Yogurt, Tempeh, Miso, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Bread (if made with yeast), Buttermilk, Kefir, Kombucha, Cider, Wine, Beer, Pickles, Sour cream, Vinegar (WebMD, 20201)
An overview of a common mycelium production method (Elsacker, E. et al.)
In this episode we are addressing the following questions:
Could you please introduce yourself in a few sentences? 2:03
Do you remember a moment that this was a space you wanted to get into? 3:04
Why were you at university at the age of 16? 4:17
Would you mind sharing more on what the "Omnivore's Dilemma" is about? 4:40
Why do you think equality makes the world more sustainable? 5:48
Can you explain what fermentation is, why are people so excited about this old fermentation process? 7:50
What is the difference between between liquids and solids? 10:08
Could you explain what exactly mycelium is? 14:38
What is the production process? How do you get your final product to taste something like a chicken product? 17:22
When does the fermentation process come in? 19:41
What is the nutritional level compared to meat or other alternatives? 20:04
How will you make sure you will flavour it in a way people will enjoy it? 22:12
Have you tried it already? 23:43
Which market will you go to first? 24:43
How do you judge the newest FDA approval? 25:34
Aside from regulations, what are other challenging obstacles? 26:57
How do you tackle the scaling problem? 28:51
Do you see an impact on your industry or on yourself about the changing investor environment? 31:37
In general, would you say the changing investor environment is a setback for food tech industry? 33:24
Do you already know your go-to market strategy? 37:51
Great quotes from the episode by Mary:
"Enabling people to become more educated to contribute to society is paramount in my perspective. Having more equality allows everybody to contribute to a more positive society."
"I think the excitement around fermentation is now because, one it's something that people are understanding. It's almost like a renaissance of people who are looking at products they love and realising that most of them come from fermentation. On top of that, there's a lot of excitement because of advances in biotechnology."
"You don't have a lot of the negative ingredients or the nutritional disadvantages of certain products. Mycelium on its own is a very nutritious ingredient and I think that's a big benefit."
"Mycelium has the ability to convert Vitamin D in the form that people need to have it, that they usually get from animal meat/products."
"Everybody would probably tell you that scaling anything fermentation related is a challenge. When you're working with something that is living, there is so much to control and there is a lot of hygiene and sterilisation and a lot of procedures are in place to ensure the safe scale."