Michelle Ruiz, a chemical engineer from Ecuador, was faced with the challenge of modifying her mother’s diet, who was diagnosed with prediabetes.
She thought of replacing wheat, which is high in carbohydrates, with mycelium (the rootlike structure of fungi) to produce high-protein, low-carb food products like pasta for diabetes at affordable prices. To commercialize the plan, Ruiz launched Hyfé Foods, a startup with $2 million in funding led by The Engine.
To make mycelium-based products as cost-effective as wheat, she planned to use sugar-filled wastewater from breweries and other food industries to produce mycelium. The process of treating wastewater with bacteria and fungi usually costs millions in annual charges to breweries. Mycelium can do the same job that bacteria and fungi do, and the sugar-based water acts as feedstock for mycelium.
Hyfé plans to build production facilities inside wastewater-producing industries to treat water and grow mycelium. This design will also save on water transportation. This process both removes waste and avoids creating more (without releasing methane like the normal wastewater treatment does), so it is, therefore, carbon neutral.
Once the mycelium is grown and then harvested, it will be filtered, dried, and turned into flour to make food products. Hyfé will offer this flour as a product, as well as food products made with the flour. Ruiz says that mycelium-based pasta has a higher percentage of protein than chicken breast.
The company plans on building a pilot plant by the end of next year. Production at the new plant will provide some relief from the current wheat shortage due to the war in Ukraine. After the first facility is built, the startup will continue to set up production facilities around the world.
According to Ruiz, there are two main benefits of this mycelium-based production,- it is cost-efficient, and second, the countries around the world will have sovereignty in producing their food. It will encourage the decentralization of food production by allowing countries and communities to not rely on a particular country or region for a specific food product.