While plenty of plant-based meat companies claim to replicate the taste of the real thing, industry leaders like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods mostly sell products that mimic ground beef or sausages, rather than the texture of a cut of meat. Now, a new start-up focused on mushrooms wants to change that. Meati Foods, backed by American restaurateurs including Grant Achatz and David Barber, is using mycelium – the vegetative part of fungi – to make jerky, chicken breast, steaks, and deli meat. “We’ve been eating mycelium ever since we’ve been eating mushrooms ,” said Meati chief executive officer and co-founder Tyler Huggins. “The advantage of mycelium is it’s very adaptable.” The fungi has been used as a replacement for plastic, shipping material, housing insulation, and fake leather, as seen in the vegan Adidas Stan Smith shoe. Using it for a meat alternative is a relatively new practice, but it shows promise, said Caroline Bushnell of Good Food Institute, an organisation that advocates for plant-based and cell-based foods. Properly replicating the texture of animal tissue is the biggest obstacle for fake-meat companies, Bushnell said. Eating two mushrooms a day nearly halves cancer risk, study finds Meati harvests a fast-growing strain of mycelium from grasslands around the world. It is put into big metal tanks with sugar and left for 18 hours. The result is easily mouldable chunks that mimic the texture of real meat. As the company claims on its website: “Meati Foods is focused on using proprietary, clean technologies to provide nutritious, fungi-based protein that everyone can enjoy and feel good about eating every day. The company strongly believes that finding the right protein should be easy and consumers should never have to choose between health, taste or the environment.” The alternative-meat market is projected to grow from US$4.2 billion in 2020 to US$74 billion in the next 10 years, according to a recent Bloomberg Intelligence report, which is less than one per cent of the US$1.3 trillion conventional meat market. Analysts, food companies, and investors foresee growth opportunities akin to Beyond Meat’s 2019 public listing and Impossible Foods’ entry into mainstream US stores like Walmart. Seafood, chicken products next for plant-based food entrepreneurs But upstarts like Meati – and mycelium-based bacon competitor Atlast – have to fight for shelf space alongside Beyond , Impossible and other established vegan brands . And they have to woo consumers who may be put off by higher prices: USDA ground beef costs US$4.38 per pound, compared to US$8.39 a pound of Beyond Meat and US$6.49 of Impossible Foods ground meat product. Meati hasn’t set its prices yet, but aims to charge something in line with standard animal protein products. The company has conducted preliminary market testing in local restaurants. Meati emerged from a US Department of Energy entrepreneurship programme in 2019. Huggins, a field biologist and environmental engineer, and co-founder Justin Whiteley, a trained material scientist, started Meati, then called Emergy Foods, looking for an environmentally friendly meat substitute that required fewer chemicals and less processing. The pair secured US$5 million in funding to build an initial plant in Boulder, Colorado. The company, which doesn’t have any revenue yet, closed a US$50 million round of financing in July. A green revolution: the rise of plant-based ‘meat’ in Hong Kong Huggins said his company aims to go beyond vegans and environmentally conscious eaters. He wants people to choose his product because they prefer it over traditional animal meat. “I know we’re successful when our Meati steaks are served at a diner in rural Kansas,” he said. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .