Culinary innovation meets sustainability

King Oyster Mushrooms

Mycoprotein emerges as a sustainable game-changer in South-East Asia’s culinary landscape

SOUTH-EAST Asia has had a rich tradition of enjoying alternative proteins, long before the term itself became trendy.

Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake, is one dish that exemplifies this. Tempeh has been a staple in South-East Asia for centuries, including Malaysia, where it’s a key ingredient in stir-fries, soups and even snacks.

Not only that but soybeans, lentils and other legumes have also been a staple of Malaysian cuisine for their affordability and nutritional value. Tofu, another soy product, is another popular protein alternative, starring in many curries, soups and desserts. Beyond soy, jackfruit, a tropical fruit with a meaty texture, has found its place as a meat substitute in curries and stews for generations too.

Tempeh and tofu are derived directly from soybeans through minimal processing – fermentation for tempeh and curdling for tofu, while jackfruit simply uses the whole fruit.

However, traditional alternative proteins like tempeh, tofu and jackfruit differ significantly from their latest counterparts in terms of origin, processing and how they mimic meat.

Why mycoprotein specifically?

Alternatives such as mycoprotein is made from fusarium venenatum - it comes from a specific part of the fungus that requires precise biofermentation technology to isolate and cultivate the protein.

Interestingly, mycoprotein is often made to resemble specific meat textures like ground beef or pulled chicken, making it a vegan-friendly substitute for familiar dishes. The first of these was a meat substitute in pot pies back in the 1980s by United Kingdom-based company Marlow Foods, under the brand name Quorn.

Locally, one family business started out in 1998 to develop plant-based meats for its consumers - that same company is known today as Ultimeat.

Choong said that 'as awareness grows about sustainable food choices and health benefits, more diners will grow to appreciate the versatility and nutritional value of mycoprotein.'Choong said that 'as awareness grows about sustainable food choices and health benefits, more diners will grow to appreciate the versatility and nutritional value of mycoprotein.'

Ultimeat chief executive officer and founder Edwin Lee believes that mycoprotein—as an alternative— offers a unique combination of nutritional benefits, sustainability advantages and culinary versatility, making it a standout option among the growing array of meat substitutes available in the market today.

“Its ability to mimic meat’s texture and nutritional profile without the environmental footprint or health concerns associated with some animal-derived products positions it as a promising alternative in the shift towards more sustainable and plant-based diets,” he said.

“It’s high in quality protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, making it a valuable protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

“It’s also low in total and saturated fat, providing a heart-healthy alternative to many animal-based proteins. Mycoprotein is also high in dietary fibre, which is beneficial for digestive health,” Lee said, adding that it is also a source of essential vitamins and minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus and B vitamins.

The high protein and fibre content of mycoprotein also contribute to enhanced satiety and fullness, which can help reduce one’s overall calorie intake.

These combined nutritional benefits make mycoprotein a highly beneficial component of a balanced diet, supporting both individual health and sustainability.

Reduced environmental impact

Mycoprotein production offers a lower environmental impact compared to traditional livestock farming.

It emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs), producing about 90% less carbon dioxide (CO2) than beef production.

According to Lee, their mycoprotein fermentation process produces meat-like proteins in just seven days.

Lee stated that mycoprotein not only replaces traditional animal proteins to reduce environmental burdens, but also 'drives innovation and technological progress in the food industry, enhancing food supply stability and safety'.Lee stated that mycoprotein not only replaces traditional animal proteins to reduce environmental burdens, but also 'drives innovation and technological progress in the food industry, enhancing food supply stability and safety'.

This also translates to mycoprotein requiring less land, which reduces deforestation and habitat destruction. The process also uses substantially less water, helping to conserve freshwater resources, which are under increasing pressure from population growth and climate change.

The long-term production of mycoprotein is also more energy-efficient than raising livestock, resulting in a lower overall carbon footprint.

Breaking into the local scene

Earlier in April, Ultimeat partnered with Nimbus Restaurant to launch an exclusive, limited-time menu featuring Ultimeat Mycoprotein. It ran from April 15 to May 15 with a menu that showcases the versatility and culinary potential of mycoprotein to mark its debut in Malaysia.

Nimbus Restaurant chef-owner Fred Choong found that partnering with Ultimeat to feature mycoprotein on Restaurant Nimbus’ menu was a “fantastic opportunity to innovate and cater to health-conscious and environmentally aware diners.”

“This partnership can inspire others to explore new culinary horizons and make a positive impact on our planet. I’m excited to take on new challenges and explore innovative ways to create delicious meals,” Choong added.

The exclusive menu showcased an indulgent spread of dishes that feature mycoprotein as the star ingredient.

Smoked Mycoprotein Risotto.Smoked Mycoprotein Risotto.

This included the king oyster mushroom with a Thai twist of a tom kha emulsion; the smoked mycoprotein risotto, with briny capers and sundried tomatoes; and also a decadent hazelnut and chocolate dessert which makes use of both a delicate mycoprotein tuile and crispy mycoprotein chocolate feuilletine.

“The [mycoprotein] dishes at Restaurant Nimbus have been enthusiastically received by our customers, who appreciate the delicious flavours and innovative use of sustainable ingredients during our month-long collaboration,” Choong told StarESG.

“Many have embraced mycoprotein not only for its taste but also for its health benefits and eco-friendly profile. It’s inspiring to see our patrons enjoying these new offerings and supporting our commitment to culinary creativity and sustainability.”

Pineapple Granita.Pineapple Granita.

Both Lee and Choong hold the view that it is extremely important for businesses in the food industry to adapt and offer sustainable options to address both environmental concerns and consumer demands.

“As environmental issues such as climate change, resource depletion, and pollution become more urgent, consumers are increasingly looking for products that minimise their environmental footprint. Offering sustainable options not only helps mitigate these environmental impacts but also meets consumer expectations, enhances brand reputation, and can lead to increased customer loyalty and profitability in the long term,” Lee stated.

He also stated how Ultimeat has many more products in the works.

“Our upcoming products, including protein powders, ready-to-drink protein beverages, snacks, and convenience foods, aim to effectively meet these needs.”

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