For years my ex-boyfriend made fun of my vegan diet, calling it “beets and sawdust”. Turns out he was onto something. NoA Biosciences has found a way to turn sawdust and wood scraps into hamburgers.
NoA means “no animals”. The company is based in Durham, North Carolina, and was co-founded by French biotech entrepreneur Gilles Amsallem and Dutch executive Koen Wentink, who serves as its CEO.
Related: First 100% Plant-Based Burger Joint in the United States
“In a nutshell, we convert woody biomass into a substrate on which fungi grow,” Wentink said. “This biomass can be anything: sawdust, wood residues left by wood processing companies or undergrowth in the forest.”
They graft the mushrooms onto the substrate, let them grow, and then process their harvest into a mushroom product that has a protein content similar to meat. The finished product can be eaten as burgers or other ways a person would use meat, such as in pasta sauce or as a pizza topping.
The remaining substrate is full of nutrients. So animal-loving as they are, the folks at NoA feed him bugs. Or use it as a bio-fertilizer. It’s a genius plan. Biomass is cheap or sometimes free. The company makes food from waste without creating additional waste. They also don’t have to cut trees, as they use sawdust and other forest products that are leftovers from previously felled trees. Additionally, the company avoids both supply chain issues and climate impacts.
“Companies that use chickpeas for their meat substitutes have had lower yields recently due to drought,” Wentink said. Barring a shortage of sawdust, NoA is safe.
Just between us, a sawdust burger doesn’t sound so delicious to me. But Wentink focuses on the mushroom rather than the woody flavor.
“Culinary experts all agree that mushroom products generally taste delicious,” he said. Which still somehow begs the question of the taste of this product. But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because it sounds like such a cool, zero-waste process.
However, don’t look for the new sawdust burgers just yet. NoA is still in the process of raising its first round of funding. Wentink estimates that the product will be widely available in one to two years. And then he hopes to ramp up quickly to reach a sales target of one million tons within 10 years.
Via the origins of innovation
Main image via Pexels