The food industry, from consumers to producers, is searching for natural ingredients and clean label ingredient formulations. According to its Global Clean Label Consumer Study (n=600), ingredient supplier Ingredion, found 78% of US consumers said it is important to recognize the ingredients used in a product they purchase (an increase from 66% in 2011).
"This increased shopper awareness and scrutiny of labels means that producers have to keep up by ensuring that their own methods and formulations are clean," Chinova Bioworks CEO Natasha Dhayagude told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show in New Orleans last week.
The issue happens when trying to formulate for extended shelf life foods as the options available generally fall into two categories: artificial preservatives or 'natural', but with limiting factors such as negative impacts on sensory properties.
"What we found from those producers is that making that shift from artificial to natural was a huge challenge. Producers had to ensure food safety, shelf life, and maintain an overall quality of the product, but natural preservatives currently in the marketplace were just not able to deliver," Dhayagude explained.
Chinova Bioworks uses chitosan, a natural biopolymer extracted from mushrooms and a similar polysaccharide to cellulose with the big difference being its positive (cationic) charge making it naturally effective against microbial spoilage.
The next clean label preservative?
Chinova Bioworks says it's able to meet all the necessary functional attributes of synthetic preservatives by preventing against spoilage caused by oxidation while maintaining a clean label health halo as the ingredient comes from a clean label, plant-based source: white button mushrooms.
"Everybody knows mushrooms, it’s easily understood, it’s very transparent for consumers," Dhayagude said.
Having a plant-based source for chitosan -- which can also be found in crustaceans and shellfish -- also means food manufacturers can meet certain certifications including Halal, Kosher, and vegan.
"We chose to use mushrooms to do the extraction because we want to make sure that we are serving people that have specific dietary restrictions," Dhayagude added.
Chitosan works well with a wide range of products because of its wide pH range comparability, broad spectrum coverage (Gram positive, Gram Negative bacteria, yeast, and mold), and heat/freeze stability.
Extended shelf life means less food waste
By extending the shelf life with a natural and recognizable mushroom-based preservative, Chinova is also able to address the industry issue of food waste, according to Dhayagude.
"Through that [shelf life] extension, we are reducing food waste for the consumer because we’re increasing the expiration date on that product, and for the producer it allows them to distribute their product globally," she said.
Last August, the startup secured $2.5m in seed funding, which it has used to scale up its product manufacturing operations, according to Dhayagude. Another milestone for the company was receiving its designation as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for its Chiber mushroom chitosan ingredient allowing to the company to commercialize its product for the US market.
While applicable as a natural preservative across a broad range of products, Chinova Bioworks will be launching first with packaged products more prone to spoilage, said Dhayagude.
"This year, we’re really, really focused on scaling up our operations from the product side and then doing a product launch for dairy applications and sauce applications," she said.