The Good Food Institute called fermentation the “third pillar” for alternative proteins, and $435 million was invested in fermentation companies in the first seven months of 2020. Fermentation itself is not a new technology and has been used since B.C. times to produce beloved products like beer, cheese, sauerkraut, and yogurt. This process can be used to modify the flavor and texture of plant-based ingredients to make them behave more like animal-based ingredients. An emerging start-up in the fermentation and alternative protein space is SuperBrewed Food, which ferments microbes to create a vegan protein powder that can be used as a key ingredient in plant-based cheese spreads, milk, and yogurt.
Bryan Tracey, the CEO and Founder of SuperBrewed Foods, was focused on how a gorilla is an herbivore, but could somehow bulk up to have such a large body mass on diet consisting of only plants. The answer was found in its gut-lining; a certain microbe in herbaceous animals allows them to thrive on a plant-based diet. “We went searching into the microbiomes of many different animals and found what we like to call the protein specialists, which are helping you digest the food that you eat to deliver you the nutrition that you thrive off of,” Tracey told me by phone last week.
The original microbe discovered by SuperBrewed was extracted from the gut lining of an undisclosed herbivore animal, and then multiplied using plant-based sugars to feed the growth. SuperBrewed Food uses a low-cost anaerobic environment to grow its bacteria, which is the same process that beer breweries use. Once the bacteria is multiplied, it is washed, separated, and dried to create SuperBrewed Food’s protein powder.
The company is focused on appealing to both flexitarians and vegans, and one appeal to its protein is the B12 content. Vegans typically have to take B12 supplements, but a single teaspoon serving of the protein powder contains 25% of the daily recommended serving of B12.
SuperBrewed Food sent me some prototypes to try that showcased the applications of its microbe-based protein. I sampled three plant-based cheese spreads made by Superbrewed that used its protein, and I was pleasantly surprised by the fluffy texture and creaminess of the cheese spreads. Other vegan cheese spreads I’ve sampled are dense or gummy, but the SuperBrewed spreads had a texture similar to whipped cheese spreads I ate in my pre-vegan days.
In 2020, companies using fermentation to produce alternative protein products raised a total of $837 million in capital, so there are certainly more players emerging in this space. Perfect Day produces flora-based alternative dairy products by fermenting yeast. Nature’s Fynd applies fermentation to a microbe that was originally extracted from the geothermal pools of Yellowstone National Park, and recently unveiled its first product line that incorporates its proprietary Fy Protein. Change Foods uses a process called precision fermentation to create alternative dairy products and is currently developing mozzarella and cheddar.
To date, SuperBrewed has raised $45 million in capital from private investors. The company is about to open its first round of funding to outside investors and will use this to launch its first products in the market in early 2022. The first products brought to market will be plant-based cheese spreads, cream cheese, and hard cheese.