Saturday, June 22, 2024

Reviving Pekilo: Enifer’s Quest to Innovate Sustainable Food with Forgotten Fungus-Based Protein


Reviving a Forgotten Mycoprotein: Enifer’s Mission to Innovate Sustainable Food

In the realm of alternative proteins, Finnish biotech startup Enifer is bringing a revival story to the table. Their focus? Pekilo, a single-cell fungus-based protein with origins that trace back to the paper industry of the 1960s and ’70s. Unlike the well-known mycoprotein Quorn, Pekilo’s journey from an environmental solution to a promising food ingredient showcases the innovation lying at the intersection of biotechnology and sustainability.

The genesis of Pekilo was not initially aimed at creating food products. The paper industry’s engineers were seeking ways to manage pollution by treating wastewater with fungus. However, this process, developed over approximately 15 years, was eventually abandoned in the early 1990s in favor of incineration techniques. This led to the bankruptcy of the engineering company behind Pekilo and the loss of knowledge around this innovative protein source.

Fast forward to 2020, and a team of biotech scientists from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, led by Enifer’s CEO Simo Ellilä, embarked on a mission to unearth the potential of Pekilo for human consumption. The team’s discovery was sparked by a connection with a retired senior R&D director who recalled the process. This set the stage for Enifer’s ambitious project: to revive and enhance Pekilo, transitioning it from feed-grade to food-grade protein.

Enifer’s quest involved meticulous research and detective work, tracking down former engineers and scouring archived materials to recreate and improve the Pekilo production process. The motivation? To cater to the growing demand for sustainable and efficient meat alternatives. Their efforts culminated in the first commercial plant designed to produce food-grade Pekilo from food industry sidestream raw materials, signaling a significant leap forward in biorefining.

The newly established factory in Kirkkonummi, Finland, represents a €33 million investment and a testament to Enifer’s vision. It stands as the world’s inaugural facility dedicated to manufacturing mycoprotein from sidestream raw materials, a process distinct from other proteins like Quorn which typically rely on glucose. Funding for this groundbreaking project was secured through a mix of equity funding, loans, and governmental grants, underscoring the broad support for sustainable food innovations.

One of the intriguing aspects of Pekilo is its versatility. Processed into a dry powder, it offers a long shelf life and flexibility for food manufacturers to integrate it into a variety of products, from savory dishes to desserts. Enifer’s experiments, like substituting flour with Pekilo in chocolate cake, demonstrate its potential to revolutionize the alternative protein market.

Yet, the journey for Pekilo is far from over. Enifer is now navigating the regulatory landscape to receive approval for Pekilo as a novel food in the European Union and beyond. With a robust scientific foundation and significant historical data supporting its safety and efficacy, the team remains optimistic about obtaining the necessary clearances to bring Pekilo into the global food supply.

In addition to human food applications, Enifer is exploring Pekilo’s use in pet food and remains open to revisiting its animal feed origins. Collaborations with companies looking to upcycle their sidestreams into valuable proteins could further expand Pekilo’s impact, aligning with global efforts towards more sustainable and responsible food production.

As the alternative protein landscape continues to evolve, Enifer’s revival of Pekilo stands out as a compelling blend of innovation, sustainability, and historical rediscovery. With an eye towards the future, Enifer’s work could help redefine how we think about food, its sources, and our environmental impact.

Alex Sterling
Alex Sterling
Alex Sterling is a seasoned journalist with over a decade of experience covering the dynamic world of business and finance. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for uncovering the stories behind the headlines, Alex has become a respected voice in the industry. Before joining our business blog, Alex reported for major financial news outlets, where they developed a reputation for insightful analysis and compelling storytelling. Alex's work is driven by a commitment to provide readers with the information they need to make informed decisions. Whether it's breaking down complex economic trends or highlighting emerging business opportunities, Alex's writing is accessible, informative, and always engaging.

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