This was the headline insight being touted by the team at MycoTechnology during Food Ingredients Europe last week.
The firm, which delivers mycelium (the filament-like roots of mushrooms) fermentation solutions to the food and drink industry, proudly shared the findings from a survey of 450 US consumers, conducted by a third party.
Lisa Wetstone, senior director, marketing, innovation & growth strategy at MycoTechnology told NutraIngredients that the survey results suggest that brands using their ingredient should draw attention to the fact it is fermented, in order to create the perception of added value.
She said: “Something we struggle with is that people don’t know what mycelium is...
“But consumers like fermentation and they think it offers value so that is an important process to draw attention to on the pack.
“This data relates to US consumers but we think the story is even stronger in Europe as we’ve seen an increase in innovations containing our fermented ingredients in this region.”
The surveyed consumers were asked about their likelihood to purchase products with plant protein and their likelihood to purchase products with fermented plant protein.
The resulting data revealed that 66% of all consumers said they were willing to pay more if the pack stated that the product was fermented. This rose to 75% when looking at just the vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian consumers.
“The more into vegetarianism the consumer is, the stronger their positive health perception association is," explained Wetstone, "most likely due to their increased awareness and interest in diet and health.”
“We feel pretty good about what this says about the value that people are perceiving,” said Wetstone, adding that this shows the importance of providing just a few more words on pack to outline the benefits of their ingredient.
She said: “It’s exciting for us to see the huge benefits of a tiny piece of education.”
In terms of what health benefits consumers most frequently associate with fermentation, the top two benefits were revealed to be digestibility and gut health.
Janitors of the forest
Mycelia grows quickly and resiliently, spreading - unseen by the human eye - for acres or even miles underground. In fact, the largest living organism in the world today is a mushroom mycelial mass in Oregon that measures 2.4 miles across.
These roots are important for "cleaning up" forests by breaking down toxins and indigestible matter. They also feed surrounding plants and animals by producing the nutrients they need to survive. Mycelium have been described as the "Janitors of the Forest," as the same chemical process that feeds and supports the mushroom also impacts the entire surrounding ecosystem.
MycoTechnology harnesses the mycelia’s ability to digest and transform its growth medium, whether by improving taste, texture, nutrition levels or bioavailability. In addition, they harvest the rich byproducts created by this natural fermentation, making it more accessible.
The team uses a process called “liquid culture” or “submerged fermentation”. Instead of allowing mycelium to ferment (or digest) solid material, as they might break down a decomposing tree in the wild, they instead “train” mushrooms to digest a liquid substrate and thrive on a liquid diet.