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Fungal fibre: Upcycled mushroom extract is a natural shelf-life extender

Article-Fungal fibre: Upcycled mushroom extract is a natural shelf-life extender

© Chinova Bioworks Chinova Bioworks RS.jpg
By offering a clean-label, eco-friendly alternative to artificial preservatives, Chinova Bioworks says its mushroom fibre ingredient “disrupts the preservation category”.

Mushrooms have spent a long time in the shade, overlooked and underutilised by the food industry. However, in the past few years, there has been growing recognition of their health benefits and potential as a nutritional and sustainable food source.

One innovator at the cutting edge of the “mushroom movement” is Canadian biotech company Chinova Bioworks. It has extracted a naturally occurring chitosan fibre from upcycled white button mushrooms to create Chiber – a clean-label preservative that is said to improve the quality, freshness, and shelf life of a variety of food and beverage products.

“Chiber provides broad-spectrum protection and is effective at inhibiting bacteria, yeast, and mould – ensuring food safety. It can meet the highest standards of natural preservation without compromising the flavour profile, texture, or appearance of any food or beverage product,” Natasha Dhayagude, CEO and co-founder of Chinova Bioworks, told Fi Global Insights.

Harnessing mushroom science

Since 2016, Chinova Bioworks has been on a mission to upcycle mushrooms in a way that can add value to the food supply chain.

“My co-founder, Dave Brown, and I met in 2016 and we found a common interest in the science of mushrooms,” she explained. “Being at the forefront of mushroom innovation, we went back to the basics in using nature to protect food.

“We took it one step further by realising the potential of a fibre extracted from the most commonly produced white button mushroom and its impact on improving the freshness, quality, and shelf life of food and beverages naturally.”

Chitosan: A natural spoilage disruptor

The basis for Chiber is chitosan, a naturally occurring fibre. Its effectiveness as a preservative stems from its ability to disrupt the membranes of spoilage organisms.

“When in acidic conditions, Chiber is a positively charged (cationic) polysaccharide. The cationic areas of the chitosan molecule will interact with the negatively charged components of the microorganism’s cell wall, such as peptidoglycan or proteins. This interaction will inhibit the survival of the microorganism, making Chiber an effective antimicrobial ingredient for coverage against all types of spoilage causing yeasts, moulds, and bacteria,” said Dhayagude, explaining the mechanism responsible for Chiber’s functionality. 

Clean-label extraction

Chinova Bioworks extracts the chitosan from mushrooms via a patented process that involves drying and grinding the mushroom stems, and using heat and water to purify the fibre from the stems.

This proprietary “green chemistry” process yields a clean-label ingredient that can be listed as “white button mushroom extract”, “mushroom fibre extract”, “mushroom extract”, or “natural flavour”. Chiber is also the only natural and clean-label antimicrobial ingredient to have been approved under Whole Foods Market’s ingredient qualification programme.

Saving mushroom stems from landfill

As well as meeting demands for label transparency, Chiber also has an upcycling story that will resonate with conscious consumers.

Chinova Bioworks works with farmers to harvest the white button mushrooms that are typically wasted or recycled, and upcycles them into Chiber. Effectively, there is a double waste reduction benefit – first, when the mushroom stems are diverted from landfill; and second, when food waste is reduced through the creation of longer-lasting products.

“Chiber’s value proposition utilises discarded biomass that previously took up landfill space and now serves as a natural functional ingredient sold in liquid form to food and beverage brands,” said Dhayagude.

Dairy and non-alcoholic beverages are two categories where Chinova Bioworks sees potential for its mushroom extract.

Data from dairy analysis

Chinova Bioworks has partnered with food developer Mattson and the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Dairy Science Program to conduct a dairy analysis of yoghurt and cream cheese, testing Chiber’s effectiveness in comparison with other natural and artificial preservatives.

“The results were amazing for both the yoghurt and the cream cheese at extending the shelf life and maintaining the taste and flavour of the samples. This study substantiates Chiber’s effectiveness in the dairy sector for producers wanting a sustainable and natural preservative,” said Dhayagude.

An alternative to alcohol

Dhayagude added that the beverage category is also a prominent focus area for the company, especially non-alcoholic beers, wines, and cocktails.

“That segment has gained popularity over the last few years and is expected to show continued growth. Brewers are especially interested in finding a natural preservative to replace the alcohol that was used as a safeguard against harmful microorganisms,” she said.

She continued: “The flavour profiles of beer are very complex, and finding a natural antimicrobial is complicated as some can change the taste of the beer. However, brewers are finding that Chiber is easy to use, prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms, and doesn’t affect the sensory profile of their beers.”

Chiber can already be found in products on shelves in thousands of retailers in North America, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Kroger, and Target. It is approved through the FDA, FEMA GRAS, and Health Canada for use in North America and 70 other countries around the world. Chiber is currently under evaluation in the EU for approval.