Alan Hahn, CEO and co-founder of MycoTechnology, reveals more about his brand’s revolutionary food technology which transforms agricultural material into functional ingredients using mycelia – the roots of mushrooms.
The company was launched in March 2013, in Denver, Colorado. One day I got a call from a friend who I’d worked with previously. He asked me to come and see a company that he was interested in investing in.
I’d been in the high-tech space for many years, as had he. The company he was interested in was a mushroom technology company, which was a strange concept to me at the time. However, I fell in love with the taste of what the two scientists had created from mushrooms.
Three years prior to that experience, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I realized that what I thought I knew about nutrition was inaccurate. I started taking health classes, went on a diet and lost 30lbs, and eventually stopped taking the medication doctors had prescribed for me as I was able to keep the diabetes under control with lifestyle and dietary changes.
Something that stuck in my mind was what the doctor said to me while I was walking out the door after I’d just been diagnosed: “Alan, if it tastes good, don’t eat it – if it tastes bad, eat it!” So when I saw what the scientists had come up with – a form of Tempeh made from mycelia (mushroom roots) – it looked like it shouldn’t taste good, but it was one of the best dishes I’d ever eaten!
While they were focused solely on replacing Tempeh with their technology, I realized that this was an incredibly efficient way of reducing salt and sugar in many different foods. I felt this technology had broader applications, so I agreed to help form the company. The rest is history.
Our first product – ClearIQ™ – was all about sugar and salt reduction. It’s an extract from one of the rarest Chinese mushrooms in the world. It’s incredible, as it temporarily binds with the taste receptors on your tongue, so bitter, sour, or astringent flavors will go unnoticed.
Typically, food manufacturers use sugar, salt, and fat to hide these unwanted flavors which is why our foods often have excessive amounts of these ingredients in them. With our mushroom extract, we can greatly reduce the need for them.
Chocolate is a good example. Chocolate is bitter but what we want to taste is the flavor of the cocoa bean, so sugar is usually added to overpower the bitterness. ClearIQ™, if added to chocolate, lowers the bitter perception, allowing for less sugar to be used. We’ve seen companies reduce more than 50% of the sugar content due to ClearIQ™.
FermentIQ™ is another product. We blend pea and rice protein together in order to create a complete protein (containing all nine essential amino acids in sufficient quantities). The problem is, it has a terrible taste and aroma. What we do with FermentIQ™ is take the protein and ferment it with shiitake mushroom mycelium to clean up the taste, while also improving its nutritional quality.
EvolveIQ™ consists of the same Chinese mushrooms I mentioned earlier, except it’s in powder form and can be used as a supplement. There are compounds in these mushrooms that offer excellent health benefits, but how they’re traditionally grown is problematic.
Typically, mushroom mycelium is grown through a starch base and then the whole thing is blended into a powder – but that ultimately leaves behind a lot of starch filler. With our EvolveIQ™ product we’re able to produce high-quality, high-potency mushroom extracts without the filler.
Mushrooms in nature are the clean-up crew – it’s their job to keep the forest healthy and thriving. When trees fall, mushrooms recycle their nutrients and help support the surrounding environment.
Essentially what we do is take what mushrooms already do in nature and apply them to solve food industry challenges. Since mushrooms are amazingly adaptable to different environments, it makes them the perfect solution.
For example, how do we make food taste good while reducing the sugar, fat, and salt? How do we create more sustainable supply chains so we’re not wasting so much? Mushrooms can solve these challenges, and more, and right now we’re working on ways to create additional value from products that would normally go to waste. It’s very exciting!
Firstly, we need to do things more sustainably. If the trends are true – that we will grow from a population of seven billion to 10 billion by 2050 – we would need to increase the amount of food we produce by around 70%. Right now we’re not capable of scaling to support that many people, so we have to think differently.
Over a third of all food produced today goes to waste. Another one of the challenges is how we can upcycle these food waste streams and turn them into something functional.
A further challenge is increasing the nutritional content of food. In the US, there are 13,000 locations that qualify as ‘food deserts’ – areas where people have limited access to healthy foods. Their only options are quick service restaurants (QSRs), where the food is high in calories and low in nutritional value. We want to help QSRs add more nutrients to their food, and lower the sugar, salt, and fat content.
We work across the food industry – whether it be a consumer packaged goods company (CPG) or a flavor house that works with CPGs. We’re involved in everything from baked foods to alternative meats, alternative dairy, and more.
We’re now targeting frozen foods and are focusing on how to reduce the high sodium content usually found in these types of foods.
The future is exciting! We’re currently closing our latest round of financing to help commercialize two ingredients that have game-changing potential.
We’re constantly pushing the envelope on what is possible with mushrooms and have an amazing team of people dedicated to shaping the future of food. I’m just excited to be a part of it all.