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Mushroom-derived technology takes the bitter out of coffee, chocolate

By Maggie Hennessy , 18-Mar-2014

MycoTechnology has trained different strains of mushroom to “like” the bitterness of chocolate.
MycoTechnology has trained different strains of mushroom to “like” the bitterness of chocolate.

An all-natural fermentation process using mushrooms to remove bitter and acidic qualities from food ingredients created by food technology firm MycoTechnology Inc. claims it will revolutionize the coffee and chocolate markets.

The brainchild of Brooks Kelly, PhD, Penn State University researcher and chief science officer of MycoTechnology, the patent-pending process is trademarked ReishiSmooth, based on a form of myceliation that uses Reishi mushrooms’ ability to selectively consume bitter compounds in foods, resulting in better-tasting products. Coffee or cocoa beans are inoculated with mushrooms and left to ferment (coffee for seven days, cocoa beans for 14). Then they’re ready to be dried and processed as normal.

By fermenting the ingredients with certain strains of mushrooms, sugar, moisture and oxygen are removed (in effect, providing food for the mushrooms), in exchange for beta-glucans, which the firm says stimulate immunity response. (An independent study on coffee beans by Brunswick Laboratories, Southborough, MA, verified the presence of Reishi-derived beta-glucans.)

The resulting beans are sweeter, full-bodied and less acidic, providing a lower-cost, time-saving solution than the current solution of combining bitter Robusta beans with more expensive Arabica coffee beans and steaming them to remove the bitterness, MycoTechnology claims. The firm is currently testing how much of the bitterness is actually removed through the process.

Mushrooms are uniquely symbiotic in interaction with food source

“When you look at what mushrooms do, they’re very unique in how they interact with their food source,” MycoTechnology CEO Alan Hahn told FoodNavigator-USA, noting that the process doesn’t require biotechnological or chemical intervention. “They have a symbiotic relationship with their food source—they take something out as food, but they also give back.”

The firm was founded in March 2013 and just closed its second round of funding for more than $1 million, which Hahn said will help it scale up (it’s currently negotiating a contract for a larger third-party lab than its existing 97,000-sq.-ft. facility), as well as solicit customers interested in licensing the technology.

MycoTechnology is currently targeting the coffee and chocolate markets, with eventual plans to expand into myceliated vanilla, grains and cereals.

“On the coffee side we’re working with regional roasters near our office,” Hahn said. “But the vast majority of roasters and bean brokers are very interested. We have probably a dozen different opportunities we’re working on right now with those types of entities.”

Indeed, MycoTechnology is currently in discussions with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Folgers and Coca-Cola’s international coffee brands.

MycoTechnology will ‘revolutionize’ chocolate

On the chocolate side, the firm has trained different strains of mushroom to “like” the bitterness of chocolate, and is working on another unique strain that it claims transforms cellulose on the exterior part of the bean to a sugar.

“Now, not only can we reduce bitterness, we can actually create a natural sweetness,” Hahn said. “We’re in the middle of working with Guittard chocolate out of San Francisco to determine the right quantities of sweet beans and non-bitter beans to create 100% chocolate with no sugar added. We are going to revolutionize chocolate.”

As a result, Hahn said he expects the chocolate licensing process to happen even quicker than with coffee. “There’s going to be an industry battle on this among companies that want exclusivity,” he said. Among the targets are Nestle, Mars, Hershey’s and Mondelez.

In both chocolate and coffee applications, the mushrooms will appear on ingredient labels according to their type (Reishi, Cordycep, etc).

Hahn said the technology presents no major challenges to manufacturers from a sourcing and equipment standpoint.

“It’s very scalable,” he said. “That’s where we spent our early days of 2013, taking it from proof of concept to production and determining how to scale each aspect of process.”

But the firm also has its sights set on targeting the grain and cereal markets with this sweetness-inducing technology, Hahn noted. “We believe this mushroom that we have for creating sweetness can create another alternative to sugar. We have already successfully myceliated rice with mushrooms, which turns into a honey kind of substance. We need to have it measured, but it’s greatly sweeter than comparable amount of sugar, so you can use less.”

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