How did mushrooms end up on the center stage of the food world? The fungi – beloved by chefs including Chef Derek Sarno who describes them as “wicked good"  – wiggled into every corner of the culinary world, proven to not only excite the taste buds but also reduce the risk of depression and boost immunity. To add to the long list of reasons to love mushrooms, a recent study just found that mushrooms could be the key to protecting the world from deforestation.

Published in the scientific journal Nature, researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concluded that replacing 20 percent of conventionally produced beef with microbial-based alternatives could cut deforestation by 50 percent by the year 2050. The groundbreaking study suggests that by promoting microbial fermentation methods, microbial-based meat such as mycoprotein (fungi-based protein) could significantly curb the damaging effects of the animal agriculture industry worldwide.

The German and Swedish researchers examine how microbial fermentation could cut into the existing meat industries by using computer modeling. The study determined to record how this innovative food technology could help the planet up until 2050, which is when experts predict the world’s population will exceed 10 billion.

“The food system is at the root of a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with ruminant meat production being the single largest source,” the lead author of the study Florian Humpenöder said in a statement. “The substitution of ruminant meat with microbial protein in the future could considerably reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of the food system.”

Microbial fermentation is a process that uses microbes from sources like mushrooms to replicate the structure of cow protein. The microbes are fed sugars and fermented similarly to bread or beer. This process creates proteins that can be used to produce near-identical plant-based meat products. This process requires far less land and water and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. The study estimates that 56 percent fewer net carbon dioxide emissions are produced from this land-use change.

“Biotechnology offers a promising toolbox for a number of land-related challenges from ecosystems preservation through improving food security,” PIK study co-author Alexander Popp, who also leads PIK’s Land Use Management Group, said in a statement. “Alternatives to animal proteins, including substitutes for dairy products, can massively benefit animal welfare, save water, and avert pressure from carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems.”

Cutting Meat to Save the Planet

Last November, 105 countries signed a pledge at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) that aims to end deforestation by 2030. Looking at the animal agriculture sector, the world’s leading governments plan to restructure food systems to prevent further destruction to the environment. The pledge also emphasized that the countries would work together to promote reforestation efforts. This new study provides a clear solution to help these governments meet this sustainability goal.

The study also emphasizes that by cutting down the reliance on beef production, the world could significantly reduce cow-related methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, meat production produces 57 percent of the world’s food industry emissions. At the COP26, eight countries joined together to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

The PIK study suggests that microbial protein or mycoprotein will help the planet reach its promised sustainability goals over the next few decades. With greater access to plant-based protein, consumers will be more inclined to try sustainable options. To stop climate change and fix the ongoing environmental damages, the US and EU must slash meat consumption by 75 percent by introducing sustainable alternatives such as mycoprotein.

Mycoprotein is the Future of Food

Chef Sarno is not alone in his excitement about mushrooms and mycoprotein. His brand, Wicked Kitchen, is one of several plant-based meat brands that highlight the benefits and versatility of mushroom-based proteins. Companies including The Better Meat Co, MyForest Foods, and Meati have developed whole cuts of “meat” from mycelium and mycoprotein. These companies all use bio-mass fermentation, creating plant-based meat products that aim to appeal to meat-eaters and vegans alike.

“The good news is that people do not need to be afraid they can eat only greens in the future,” Humpenöder said. “They can continue eating burgers and the like, it’s just that those burger patties will be produced in a different way.”

Companies worldwide have turned to mycoprotein due to its minimal environmental footprint and its nutritional density. The plant-based protein will allow consumers to enjoy their favorite foods without any harm to the planet or animals. This December, Quorn released a new line of mycoprotein-based chicken products including Southern Fried Wings, Garlic Herb Bites, Creamy Korma Bites, Sweet Chilli Mini Fillets, and Jerk Mini Fillets. Quorn’s mycoprotein is extremely sustainable to grow, typically taking less than 24 hours to produce the mycelium protein in a fermenter and subsequently harvest it.

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