CEO of Prime Roots, Kimberlie Le, joins Elysabeth Alfano on The Plantbased Business Hour to discuss the magic of whole-food, Koji fungi (best pâté ever!) and taking over the deli counter.
Specifically, they discuss:
- How Koji can be meats from fungi
- Distribution and taking over deli counters.
- Prime Roots Koji bacon and pate, and
- The environmental impact and efficiency of using microbes for food production.
Below is a short clip and transcript from their conversation. Podcast here.
Elysabeth: Help us understand what you’re doing with mushrooms because when I first read- and you can go to their website primeroots.com – but when I first went to your website it doesn’t talk too, too much about what you’re doing with mushrooms per say. So, I thought well maybe it’s the whole mushroom that they’re working with. To the extent that you can share it, what are you doing with mushrooms to make what products?
Kimberlie Le: Yeah, so we technically don’t use a mushroom. We use fungi. Fungi is a whole kingdom just like plants are a whole kingdom. Fungi is a commonly overlooked kingdom. And so, specifically within the fungi kingdom, we use something called Koji. And Koji sometimes is called Koji mushrooms. It doesn’t have any relation to the button mushrooms we see. It’s actually microscopic which is really cool. So, the unique insight that I had for using Koji specifically is that it has the identical microscopic texture as meat.
So, when you think about “what is meat?”-like the muscle fiber structure, there’s a shape and a size. It’s kind of round in shape and if you’ve ever ripped apart a chicken breast, you’ve kind of seen what that muscle fiber structure looks like and feels like. So Koji actually identically replicates that, but it is a fungi.
Most people have had Koji before. It’s found in miso and soy sauce and in those fermentation processes. Koji is responsible for transforming the soybeans into something that is really umami-rich and delicious. So, umami is a compound and it is a taste. It’s coming from certain compounds that are found in meat, so that also comes from the Koji. So, there’s a lot of analogs too that are like animal-based proteins that are found in Koji but, of course, there are no animals involved at all.
Koji is the not-so-secret ingredient that we use. It’s the first ingredient in all of our products. You can think about it like the roots of mushrooms. So, when you think about mycelium, so that’s kind of that underground root network of mushrooms that, if you’ve seen the documentary called Fantastic Fungi which I highly recommend, it talks about how mycelium is really underpinning life and it enables foods to talk to each other. They are microscopic, but they grow together so you can actually see them and, of course, you can taste them in our products. And it really is a wonderful material because it enables us to build any type of meat or seafood textures from it and it is analogous in terms of the shape and size and texture and building block of meat.
It’s a whole food protein so we don’t go through any protein extraction or anything like that. It’s a whole food. You’re actually getting the whole Koji and that is very different from a lot of traditional plant-based approaches.
Elysabeth: So much to unpack there because I want to understand what it is that we’re eating. So, you say it’s a whole food. So it’s not processed in an extractive kind of way. But are you fermenting the Koji itself? In other words, what I want to understand is, is it the Koji that is the base or is it-
Kimberlie Le: It’s the koji.
Elysabeth: Okay, so it’s not the microbe or- I’m out of my depth here – of the kingdom. I know that there’s a Fungi kingdom and I know that there’s a microbial kingdom and I know that we can have a sort of biomass fermentation where with the help of microbes we are then harnessing or harvesting that microbial growth. Or we can stay with, let’s say traditional fermentation like yeast or beer or kimchi where we start with the product and that fermented product is the same end product. So, cabbage remains cabbage when we ferment it. So, does the Koji remain Koji?
Kimberlie Le: Yes.
Elysabeth: Okay, so it’s the Koji itself that you’re growing?
Kimberlie Le: Yes, it is a biomass fermentation. Conceptually, I like to explain it as very similar to kombucha. When you brew kombucha you have a mother and the mother keeps growing and it’s very similar where you have one Koji cell that becomes two that becomes four that becomes eight. So, it replicates quite readily and quite quickly, so we can go from the start of a ferment all the way to an end of a ferment within two days.
Elysabeth Alfano is the CEO of VegTech™ Invest, the advisor to the VegTech™ Plant-based Innovation & Climate ETF, EATV. She is also the founder of Plant Powered Consulting and the Host of the Plantbased Business Hour.