Company makes plant-based protein from wood

Arbiom’s new ingredient, SylPro, is made from fermented wood pieces that can replace traditional proteins found in meat substitutes.

Food company Arbiom is working on an unusual ingredient to use in alternative meat substitutes: wood. The material, called SylPro, is wood that’s naturally broken down through fermentation, like what mushrooms do when growing on tree stumps. The ingredient could replace standard pea, soy and wheat proteins used in plant-based meats.

According to the company, SylPro is also a “superior, sustainable protein source” to improve aquaculture, animal and human nutrition. The company’s “technology platform integrates its biomass processing expertise, proprietary fermentation technology and enhanced microorganism strains to convert wood into nutritional feed and food ingredients”. 

Arbiom chose wood as the protein base due to its plentiful and available feedstock. The existing supply chain is a strong one, forested land is increasing around the world, and there is no competition with food crops. 

To avoid the ingredient from having the same taste and texture similar to “sawdust”, the wood is fermented even more and “comes out different”.

In an interview with Food Dive, Marc Chevrel, the company’s CEO, says the proof-of-concept study showed that it has no impact on taste or texture of the product.

“We’re taking wood, a known food plant, and putting it back into the food chain,” said Chevrel.

“And that’s something that’s never been done until now. That’s also something that could completely change the equation between supply and demand for food at the global level, since wood… is completely renewable and widely abandoned around the globe. You have basically an unlimited supply of it, with an interesting supply chain on top of that.

The company’s vice president of nutrition, Ricardo Ekmay, added: “Like other plant-based ingredients it does have a strong umami [flavour], which, when paired correctly and appropriately, I think certainly enhances the experience of consuming SylPro or a SylPro-based product.”

While there are concerns from an environmental standpoint about SylPro, both the CEO and vice president are adamant that the wood used will be made from scrap wood pieces or trees that have been cut off beforehand.

The ingredient is still being tested and developed, and Ekmay also mentioned that, if the tests prove successful, they hope to seek FDA approval by the end of 2021.

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