Product, Service & Design Innovation
Wonder Food Can Make Products Softer than Suede, Sweeten Foods Better Than Sugar

Here are two innovations that give new meaning to the phrase "magic mushrooms": An Italian textile manufacturer has used a skin extracted from giant mushroom caps to create a leather-like material similar to suede; and a Colorado-based startup has found a way to use mycelium molecules to block bitter tastes on a person’s tongue as they eat, meaning they’ll only taste the other flavor profiles of the food.

Italian textile manufacturer Grado Zero Espace’s leather alternative is called ‘Muskin.’ It is ‘vegan’ since it is plant-based, made entirely from skin extracted from giant mushroom caps. Lab tests have proven that the material is similar to suede but much softer, breathable and water repellent while still delivering durability performance. The tests showed it does not promote the proliferation of bacteria, and is able to absorb and then release moisture.

Muskin is processed in a similar way to leather, but using a completely natural tanning process. Since no chemicals involved in its creation and treatment, it is non-toxic and ideal for use in items that come into direct contact with the skin, such as shoes, bags and watch straps. Quantities are limited to small series production.

Grado Zero Espace is not the first to create mushroom-based leather alternatives, but it is the first to come across our radar that is entirely made from mushrooms. MYX, for example, is another material made from mycelium. Danish product designer Jonas Edvard developed MYX from waste product from commercial oyster mushroom production combined with hemp and linen fibres.

Meanwhile, Colorado-based startup Myco Technology has found a way to substitute sugar using mycelium molecules. The mycelium is dried and turned into a powder that is added to food while it is being prepared. The molecules can stay on the tongue for ten seconds before saliva removes it, which appears to be enough to keep the consumer from tasting the bitterness in their food.

The result is that foods taste sweeter without any need for adding sugar or sugar substitute – a particularly desirable outcome given consumers’ increasing health-consciousness and concerns around obesity. Several food companies, including giants such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola, are changing product recipes and Mars UK is even advising limited consumption of their products high in salt, sugar and fat.

Mycelium is FDA-approved and falls under the category of “natural flavors,” but is flavorless, so it doesn’t leave behind an aftertaste like saccharin and aspartame. Alan Hahn, the co-founder and CEO of Myco Technology, says that most existing “bitter blockers” are chemical-based, making their fungi-based product a breakthrough in that it is an all-natural solution. Hahn suggests that companies can maintain the taste people know while cutting the sugar content in half by using his company ’s mycellium bitter blocker, which they have called ClearTaste™.

The startup has gathered interest from several companies already, and partnerships with GLG Life Tech, one of the largest publicly-traded producers of teh zero-calorie sweetener stevia, and Ardent Mills, one of the largest flour mills in the U.S.


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