“The alternative protein market is projected to reach US$17.4 billion in 2027, and the meat substitutes market is set to expand.

SUSTAINABLE, alternative options for protein are soaring in popularity. According to Ernst and Young Global Limited, the alternative protein market is projected to reach US$17.4 billion (RM79.82 billion) in 2027. Locally, leading data and analytics company GlobalData reports that the Malaysian meat substitutes market is set to expand at a value compound annual growth rate of 7.4% throughout 2023 to 2027.

However, what are the options for alternative protein in the Malaysian market? Typically, the average Malaysian supermarket will carry a range of plant-based proteins like soy-based tofu or wheat-based seitan, and many of these products are great choices.

Not only do they have a lower environmental impact in comparison to animal agriculture, but they also make up an essential part of vegetarian and vegan diets, with the necessary amino acids for building and repairing tissues in the body.

However, Malaysians love trying new and interesting foods, and there is a lesser-known and potentially more suitable alternative protein option.

Mycoprotein, a revolutionary fungi-derived product that is under-rated but yet viable, is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional animal proteins.

Fungi fundamentals

Mycoprotein is created through a process known as biomass fermentation. The process uses the high-protein content and rapid growth of microorganisms – in this case, fungi – to efficiently make large amounts of protein-rich food. Since fermentation is a natural process, this has the added benefit of being much cheaper than other methods of creating alternative protein products.

For example, take extrusion, which uses moisture, high heat and mechanical energy to produce meat substitutes in a matter of seconds.

While the extrusion process is quicker, it is significantly more expensive.

In contrast, fermentation uses less energy and utilises carbon and nitrogen sources, which as a bonus is better for the environment.

Magical meat mimicry

Using fungi for mycoproteins also allows for a more precise emulation of taste and texture in comparison to meat. The mycelium, otherwise known as the network of threads throughout a fungus, branches and develops in a surprisingly similar pattern to real meat muscles during the fermentation process.

This not only elevates the authenticity of mycoprotein but also distinguishes it from other plant-based proteins that often lack such genuine resemblance to traditional meat.

Nutritional merits

Mycoprotein possesses excellent nutritional values, providing high levels of protein and fibre while containing low fat and sodium, and zero cholesterol.

Additionally, its protein quality surpasses that of some conventional meats. When mycoprotein-based products are cultivated from mushrooms specifically, they can boast high levels of glutamic acid, an amino acid that helps with metabolism, brain and cardiac functions.

At the heart of it, choosing mycoprotein does not just offer a sustainable and nutritious option but a cost-effective solution as well.

Mycoprotein products provide Malaysians with a high-quality alternative protein at a reasonable price, paving a path towards a meat-free future.

The writer is a certified food scientist and co-founder of Ultimeat. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com