Three talented Hebrew University researchers in biochemistry, molecular biology, and nutrition, all of whom happen to be women, are setting out to solve two of the world’s most dire issues, and they might just succeed. The first is the rise of ultra-processed foods, which is seriously damaging our health and leading to a range of issues, including the impairment of bone quality. The second is none other than climate change. To help solve these emergencies wreaking havoc on humanity, they’re not turning to space or some novel clean energy source but rather to a small, overlooked part of our natural environment – fungi.
At first, Co-Founder and CTO, Daria Feldman, set out to explore the benefits of fungi as part of her Ph.D., in the context of bio-fuels which were gaining steam as a go-to green alternative to conventional fuels. Eventually, enthusiasm for biofuels waned, but Daria’s fascination with fungi and drive to make an impact by harnessing its almost unique abilities did not. Soon she was exploring how she could leverage fungi’s incredible durability. As her Co-Founder and CEO Jasmin Ravid put it: “if we experienced a nuclear Armageddon there would be only two things left, the cockroaches and fungi.”
Her idea was to fuel the rapidly growing human population, which is overly reliant on cattle that require 1,800 gallons of water per pound of beef and account for 25% of all methane [a gas 80x more potent than carbon dioxide] emissions. Adding to her conviction was a fact that “If you’re thinking to go plant-based, normally you lack some of the amino acids you need. You just don’t have the complete protein source that animal products provide.” Mushrooms solved the issue and she knew Mycelium, the mushroom’s biomass beneath the ground, could provide the nutrition necessary to provide a compelling alternative to both meat-based and plant-based diets.
The question is “how does it taste?” Luckily, they opened the doors of their Rehovot-based offices so I could find out.
First course: Dim Sum Rating: 9/10
The presentation of the dish was great, wrapped delicately in a thin gyoza layer and accompanied by a pair of chopsticks and soy sauce, the fact that Kinoko’s fungi-superfood was inside was imperceptible. The dim sum did have an enjoyable truffle-esque flavor, but what really stood out was the texture. It was more meaty and rich than soy, and without the dominating taste of the latter. It could have been meat or legumes in the dim sum and although still in the testing phase, it seemed ready for market.
Second Course: Curry & Vegetables Rating: 8/10
The steaming hot curry and vegetables smelled delicious, but this time Kinoko’s fungi-superfood was fully visible in the dish. Unlike the Dim Sum, the truffle-like flavor didn’t stand out, instead, it blended in with the other vegetables and took on the flavor of the curry sauce. We continued the conversation in-between bites and before I knew it I had finished. Though not offering the distinct deliciousness of the dim sum, it was a welcome addition that blended into a flavorful curry. And perhaps most importantly, it was packed with an ultra-nutritious super-food and complete protein.
The company is already in talks with major food distributors in several countries and plans to sell the raw material they produce, which can be made into a variety of dishes. In the meantime, the team is continuing to refine their products which take only four days to grow, allowing them ample opportunities to improve and come up with new variations. Though still early stage, they are backed by Yissum, the Technology Transfer of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which fostered notable food tech startups such as Future Meat, BioMilk, and SavorEat. Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), a leading Israeli VC that recently opened a food tech center in the Galilee is also a backer.
Global warming and the issue of providing nutritional superfoods as an alternative to the ultra-processed ones that dominate many diets today is a herculean undertaking. While Kinoko’s talented team recognizes that they won’t win the battle alone, their alternative to the meat-based vs. plant-based divide could prove an important (and tasty!) leap forward.