Pekilo mycoprotein: eniferBio and Valio unite to upscale “third pillar” of protein
20 Apr 2023 --- Finnish biotech start-up eniferBio has raised €11 million (US$12.05 million) to fund the scaling up of its Pekilo mycoprotein powder. Pekilo is a fungus that can produce a protein-rich powder when processed using a special fermentation technique developed in Finland, which eniferBio has now adapted to enable upscaling of by-products from various industries into viable Pekilo protein.
“We grow a particular fungus, initially discovered in Finland, in a proprietary fermentation process, Simo Ellilä, CEO of eniferBio, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“We feed the fungal biomass continuously in steel fermentation vats with suitable carbohydrate-containing by-products from various industries – for example – the food industry. The fungal biomass is harvested from the liquid, then dried and milled into a fine powder.”
“We have a product that turns today’s waste into a high-value ingredient,” continues Ellilä, highlighting the current trend toward upcycled ingredients. He further notes that the resulting powder has great potential for various applications.
“The end product is intended to be used like plant protein ingredients, such as pea or soy protein concentrates, are used today. It contains up to 70% protein and more than 20% good-quality fiber, mainly beta-glucan,” he explains.
“It is light in color and practically tasteless, making it an ideal protein ingredient for various applications. It also absorbs a huge amount of water and fat, which can be beneficial when creating novel products.”
Applications for the powder reach beyond plant-based products, which continue to grow in popularity.
“In food applications, the biggest potential is in “plant-based” meat alternatives, such as vegetarian meatballs, patties, sausages, and the like,” he continues.
“However, we have found that Pekilo is also well suited to baking applications, bringing in a lot of protein and fiber while not imparting any unwanted color or taste.”
Collaboration with Valio
Netherlands-based investment fund Aqua-Spark led the funding round alongside Tesi (Finnish Industry Investment) and Valio. Ellilä is especially excited about working with Valio and the union’s potential for upscaling Pekilo.
“With Valio, we are looking at both ends of the value chain – on the one hand, using dairy industry by-products such as whey permeate as raw material for our fermentation – and creating novel food products with our protein on the other,” he says, noting how Valio ise expanding its scope in general.
“While Valio is traditionally associated in Finland with dairy products, they have been actively expanding into the alternative meat and dairy sector, for example, by launching MiFU (meat alternatives based on milk proteins) and Oddlygood (oat-based beverages) and acquiring Gold&Green (a maker of plant-based meat alternatives),” highlights Ellilä.
“So there’s a lot of scope of where Pekilo protein could fit in, and Valio has an impressive history of R&D in the food sector.”
Valio is keen to invest as a means of future proofing the food chain.
“eniferBio is a cutting-edge research company that has developed new ways of utilizing the food industry’s side streams in protein production,” says Tuomas Salusjärvi, executive VP of growth businesses and R&D at Valio.
“We want to strengthen our cooperation and be involved in developing new ways of producing food to meet the growing global demand for food.”
The future of protein
Ellilä is excited about this investment, in part because it represents a growing industry interest in fungi.
“There has been huge interest in the mycoprotein sector in recent years, and rightly so,” he notes.
“Fungi can represent a huge new “third pillar” of protein alongside traditional protein sources derived from the plant and animal kingdoms. It’s great to see many companies with different approaches to producing and applying mycoprotein and food companies seem interested in these ingredients.”
Today’s investment will enable eniferBio to scale mycoprotein production massively.
“We currently operate a pilot line yielding 5kg daily of mycoprotein. The aim is to take a massive leap and build a fully-fledged, commercial-scale facility next, producing more than 1,000 times more than our current facility,” he says.
“That’s the kind of production volume you need to make production profitable in the long-term.”
By James Davies
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