Remember portobello burgers? They were the first attempt by many restaurants at putting a meatless burger on the menu. And they were pretty good.
But the selection of plant-based meat products has grown exponentially since those days, with companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods leading the charge—however polarizing it might be. Recently, there’s been considerable consumer backlash against the processed meat analogs they produce, with a call to return to more natural alternatives.
That backlash is making room for mushrooms and other fungi—not technically plants—to reign again as meatless options.
Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York City, is a fungi fan, as he shared during a panel titled “Meat Mushrooms: Your New Center of the Plate Protein,” at the Plant Based World Expo held earlier this month at the Javits Center in New York City.
Ripert incorporates fermented fungi into his upscale menu, which focuses primarily on seafood but includes a vegetarian tasting menu as an option.
He’s consulting with a company called Nature’s Fynd, working with their teams to incorporate fermented and steamed fungi into menu items including saffron risotto, stuffed zucchini flowers and cheesecake. The product is made from Fy, a nutritional fungi protein, and has a cheese-like flavor and 50% protein composition.
“You have to be more plant-forward than plant-based to move more people to the vegetable world,” said Ripert. “You have to educate subtly; if customers are curious, we’ll tell them more.”
Stephany Burgos, executive culinary leader of Planta restaurants, a multi-unit plant-based concept, explores the many mushroom varieties for her menu, she said during the panel. “We’ve only scratched the surface on what we can do with mushrooms,” noted Burgos. “We prioritize the integrity of the ingredient … minimal manipulation, maximum mind blowing for customers.”
"Chik'n fried" mushrooms layered with hoisin and pickled cucumber fill a bao bun alider at Planta. | Photo courtesy of Planta.
At Planta, she uses techniques that coax out the flavor and natural umami of mushrooms, resulting in menu items like Bao Buns stuffed with brined, “chik’n fried” mushrooms, hoisin and pickled cucumber. Burgos also grinds mushrooms for plant-based Bolognese sauce, chops them to fill Spinach Shiitake Dumplings and grills meaty Lion’s Mane mushrooms for a center-of-the-plate entree.
Fable Food takes a zero-waste approach to creating protein-rich mushroom products to stand up to meat in the center of the plate. “We upcycle shiitake mushroom stems into minimally processed meat substitutes,” said Danielle Schwab, business development manager for the company, during the panel.
Food products made from mushrooms need some sort of binder to hold together, so Fable blends the shiitake stems with 3% soy, which boosts the protein to 14 grams per serving, said Schwab. “We lean into all the good qualities of mushrooms and let chefs take it the rest of the way,” she said. Earlier this year, high-end STK Steakhouse put Fable’s mushroom burger sliders on the menu in its 23 locations.
Mycelium, the rootlike structure that supports mushroom growth, is also getting tapped as a meat substitute. Several companies, including Meati and MyForest Foods are transforming fermented mycelium into fungi-based steaks, chicken cutlets, bacon and more.
Meati’s “chicken” cutlets are now offered at Denver-based quick-service chain Birdcall as a crispy fungi-based cutlet sandwich topped with kimchi slaw, cilantro and sriracha aioli. And Momofuku chef-founder David Chang has recently teamed up with Meati as a culinary partner and educator.
“The biggest challenge is what to call mushroom or fungi-based food products and menu items,” said Schwab. “Plant-based meat has such a negative image.”
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