Buckle up, everybody, because the plant-based meat race shows no signs of slowing down. Companies are fighting to replace every known meat variety with some kind of non-meat product, making full use of every possible ingredient along the way. Chipotle has been working with plant-based options for a while now—back in 2014 the chain first introduced sofritas, a tofu-based protein, and just earlier this year it experimented with a pea-based vegan chorizo (it also tried to sell us on “plant-based” cauliflower rice, as if we didn’t already know cauliflower was a plant). It makes sense, then, that the company would be a major investor in Meati, a new mushroom-based meat alternative. In fact, Nation’s Restaurant News reports that Chipotle believes so much in the power of the new protein that the company invested $50 million.
What is Meati?
The Colorado-based company has created a meat-like product using mycelium, the strain of a spore from a mushroom’s root-like filaments grown in the fermentation process (so, mushroom root, for simplicity’s sake). So far this mushroom-root method has allowed Meati to recreate chicken-like cutlets, a classic steak filet, and carne asada.
As of now, Meati is only being used in three Colorado restaurants, mostly finding its way into a variety of sandwiches. But with Chipotle’s investment in place, Meati will soon open up a 100,000-square-foot ranch to amp up production and create new products. It will be available for purchase in Sprout supermarkets in October.
The rise of mushroom products
Meati is not the only company going all in on mushrooms, and it makes sense that people are testing the limits of the versatile fungi. Not only do mushrooms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures, but their rich umami flavor can either be highlighted for its own depth or disappear into whatever flavor profile you want assigned to the shroom. With the rise of products like mushroom jerky, mushroom beer, and mushroom chips, the industry is booming—according to Taste, the functional mushroom market is projected to make $69.3 billion by the end of 2024.
Like with most meat alternatives, there are health and environmental benefits that come with committing to mushroom products. According to GreenMatters, mushrooms just might be the most sustainable vegetable out there because they require less growing materials, growing space, water, energy, and even carbon dioxide than any other crops. That 100,000-square-foot ranch that Meati is expanding into? That will have the ability to produce tens of millions of pounds of mushrooms annually.
If you’re interested in trying out the many ways people are using mushrooms, here are a few brands to keep an eye on:
Fable: ready-to-eat meals like stroganoff and chili con carne with mushrooms as the meat
Functional Brewing Company: alcohol-free craft beer brewed with fungi
MUD/WTR: coffee made from mushrooms instead of beans
My Forest Foods: mushroom bacon
North Spore: purveyor of mushroom tinctures, capsules, and teas as well as grow kits
Pan’s Mushroom Jerky: it’s right there in the name—jerky made of mushrooms
Perfect Day: fungus-based dairy alternatives
Rainbo: mushroom tinctures, teas, and maple syrup
If you’re not able to give any of these items a shot, just be patient. While Chipotle hasn’t confirmed that it’ll be testing out the product anytime soon, we can only assume a plant-based carne asada bowl is imminent. And the shroom boom will only get bigger from there.