The Better Meat Co. to debut mycelium foie gras

Dive Brief:

  • Fermented meat analog maker The Better Meat Co. plans to introduce an analog of foie gras this spring, co-founder and CEO Paul Shapiro told Food Dive. The foie gras, which will be made from the company’s mycelium-derived Rhiza protein, will first appear on restaurant menus, Shapiro said. An announcement of the first restaurant partners is forthcoming. 
  • Shapiro said that despite the animal cruelty underlying foie gras, there are many people who like to eat it. “Because it is so controversial, and because it has been the subject of litigation and legislation throughout the world, it makes sense for us to create a version so that people who enjoy eating foie gras can experience that same joy without all the suffering,” he said in an exclusive interview.
  • Foie gras, which is considered a delicacy in fine dining circles, is made from the fattened livers of overfed ducks or geese, but has been criticized around the world as inhumane. In the U.S., it will soon be banned in New York City and there have been long legal battles to ban it in California. It has also been banned in several countries in Europe and Asia.

Dive Insight:

Of all of the foods that activists say are cruel to animals, foie gras is at the top of the list. While it’s considered a hallmark of fine dining, many say there is no humane way to make it. The ducks or geese used in its production are force-fed pounds of grain each day, often through tubes inserted in their throats, which leads to their livers swelling up to 10 times their normal size. The animals are confined in small cages, and journalists have reported that they tend to suffer from other health problems based on the overfeeding, treatment and confinement. 

But even though opposition to foie gras has been much wider than animal activists, it’s still beloved in the culinary world. U.S. bans on the product are often met with fierce legal battles. In California, which first banned it with a state law in 2004, restaurants have brought federal lawsuits and numerous appeals. The latest appeal, from the state trying to revive the ban, was argued in front of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in October. No ruling has been issued. The New York City ban was met with protests, but goes into effect in November.

An analog made from mycoprotein, however, could allow the experience of foie gras without the animal cruelty issues — or without being subject to legislation and court rulings. The Better Meat Co. is able to make its Rhiza protein, which is derived from the roots of mushrooms, into a variety of forms, textures and shapes. Flavorings, oils and natural colors can be added to make the protein look and taste like a variety of meaty products. Better Meat has been experimenting the most with chicken and beef — even selling its analogs at a local steakhouse last year — as well as bacon. However, the company is looking at recreating other fine dining staples, recently posting a photo of a Rhiza caviar analog on Instagram.

Better Meat’s mycelium foie gras will be able to work as a mousse and pate, Shapiro said. He didn’t share specific price information, but said that it would beat animal-derived foie gras — which can cost upwards of $50 per pound.

There are a few chef-created recipes for vegan foie gras made from ingredients including nuts, oils and vegetables, but none made from mycelium. These versions also require a significant amount of preparation, and do contain nut allergens. There are no ready-to-serve alternative foie gras products currently on the market.

With its mycelium foie gras, The Better Meat Co. has seen a bit of white space in the food industry and is working to fill it. If the taste and texture are right, this product could fill a need in the fine dining space as a completely noncontroversial alternative to the delicacy. And while foie gras isn’t a product with as much consumption as chicken, beef and pork, there are consumers who would want a mycelium alternative to the goose liver product. Makers of meat alternatives tend to talk up their products’ sustainability and health benefits, but Better Meat’s foie gras alternative reiterates that this segment can also advocate for better treatment of animals.