I'm a bioengineer who founded a venture backed company making meatless bacon (All natural and Non-GMO) using fungi (somewhere in between plant-based and lab grown meat), AMA!
Hi! I'm Josh, the co-founder and CTO of Prime Roots.
I'm a bioengineer and computer scientist. I started Prime Roots out of the UC Berkeley Alternative Meat Lab with my co-founder who is a culinologist and microbiologist.
We make meatless bacon that acts, smells, and tastes like bacon from an animal. Our technology is made with our koji based protein which is a traditional Japanese fungi (so in between plant-based and lab grown). Our protein is a whole food source of protein since we grow the mycelium and use it whole (think of it like roots of mushrooms).
Our investors were early investors in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods and we're the only other alternative meat company they've backed. We know there are lots of great questions about plant-based meats and alternative proteins in general so please ask away!
EDIT: We did a limited release of our bacon and sold out unfortunately, but we'll be back real soon so please join our community to be in the know: https://www.primeroots.com/pages/membership. We are also always crowdsourcing and want to understand what products you want to see so you can help us out by seeing what we've made and letting us know here: https://primeroots.typeform.com/to/zQMex9
I eat our products most days out of the week, usually at lunch. My personal favorites are the bacon and tuna but there are other people on our team who have other favorites too, my cofounder's favorites are bacon and salmon which is the first product we tried making actually.
How healthy/sustainable are these food products? Does the taste compare to the original real deal or is it clearly artificial?
There is more protein per calorie (less fat), no nitrates and no meat so the health and sustainability are much better.
The taste and texture are definitely comparable, I am a bacon lover and it satisfies my cravings and every other bacon lover I've fed it to.
Now I'm wondering, you got honey or maple cured flavors?
Currently the bacon we have is sugar free and keto friendly, I do want to eventually make a version with maple syrup as an ingredient at some point though
Is it a complete protein and does it provide vitamin B12?
Yes, and yes! :)
Why are they so expensive?
It's priced similar to a premium bacon, over time as we scale the price will go down.
How are you keeping the unit price competitive with actual bacon?
It's $9.99 for 8oz of their bacon. Walmart sells 16oz of real bacon for $4.98. So it's roughly 4x the price of regular bacon. Prime Roots' price could go down as they scale and improve their process, but it'll be awhile before they can compete head to head on price with factory farmed pigs.
We are priced more similarly to premium bacon products like Applegate organics or Niman ranch today, you are correct that over time as we scale we intend to lower our prices. At a very large scale it is going to be cheaper than meat as it is fundamentally more efficient to produce.
The main reason meat is currently so cheap is due to the ridiculous amount of government subsidies, meat is very inefficient to produce even on a large scale.
I honestly wish prices of products would reflect their ACTUAL cost, including damage to the environment. If your steak suddenly went from 7.99 a lb to 27.99 a lb, we'd probably be in a much better place now.
So how does the carbon footprint of your bacon compare with conventional bacon?
Very good question, glad you asked. It's much much lower (we're thinking around 90+% lower) since we are much more efficient than an animal at making protein. We haven't had the opportunity to do a life cycle analysis yet but want to do so. The cool thing about using fungi is that they can actually make their own protein rather than having to eat protein to make protein. In addition to carbon, we use significantly less land and water than animal protein.
If you're already buying organic or nitrite-free bacon it's pretty comparable though.
There's really no such thing as nitrate-free bacon. Pretty much every "all-natural" or "nitrate free" bacon uses celery powder or celery juice to cure it instead of sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, but celery powder is naturally very high in nitrates and readily get converted to nitires during the curing process.
And inface, celery cured bacons actually contain more nitrites (the more dangerous one) than bacon cured with sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.
Correct, however our bacon is actually nitrate free, not tricking you into thinking it is nitrate free.
Hi, I'm a biophysicist who is very interested in the emerging biotechnology industry and eco-friendily humane alternatives to the meat industry. I respect your work!
How did you know this was a viable venture that could make an edible and palatable product, before splashing out heaps of investor money on expensive equipment, storage and production?
We started making prototypes in our hacked development kitchen before taking in any investment, now I can't say those early versions were very good, but they were enough to show promise in our approach. After working on the products for 3 years now I can say that they taste really good!
You ship worldwide?
We hope to real soon! Let us know what you want to see where you are to help us out: https://primeroots.typeform.com/to/zQMex9
What's your perspective on the French ban on calling non-meat based products 'bacon'?
I think that laws like this are silly and a protectionist outcome the meat lobby craves. If I write plant based all over the packaging right next to the word bacon nobody is getting confused and thinking that it comes from a pig. Bacon is a flavor, a pig is an animal.
Bacon is not a flavour, bacon is meat from the back or sides of a pig that has been cured.
Someone should tell that to beef bacon
Or turkey bacon
Why not call it mushroom bacon? The same way we did with other non-pig bacons like turkey bacon or beef bacon.
We call it meatless bacon. It's not mushroom bacon since we don't use mushrooms, we use Koji which is a fungi but not a mushroom :)
When will you be providing a GMO version of your product? I prefer to avoid meat as well as eat GMO foods for the same reason - to optimize human food consumption for the long term.
I think there is certainly opportunity to improve efficiency of food production with GMO technology, however in our case we haven't found a strong reason to use GMO technologies in the products. We went first to see if we could find a fungi that works well as it is in nature for efficient growth and found that Koji works very well as it stands. It has been selectively bred for about 8000 years in Japan so it's already been designed for human food use.
Are you going to call it Facon?
Will you have products other than bacon? If so, what will your next foods be?
Yes! We started three years ago making seafood and since then have made a whole range of products, we'll be unveiling them over time as we scale up our Koji growing. You can see and let us know which products you like here: https://primeroots.typeform.com/to/zQMex9
Is the seafood also made from the koji mushroom? And how exactly do you get one mushroom to taste both like bacon and like seafood?
Yes, all of our meats and seafoods are koji based. The different tastes come from the rest of the ingredients (fats, natural flavors, etc.) and the textural differences from how we form the product.
Have you approached any kosher certification organizations yet about whether they would approve of your product? If not, you should!
We do not yet have a kosher certification but all the products we make are otherwise kosher, we do plan to get a kosher certification soon.
There's a lot of interesting research on fermentation and the human microbiome at the moment. What role do you think fermented foods are going to play in the market in the next few years?
I think there will be a lot of continued interest in probiotics and prebiotics and lots of research and I am sure fermented foods have a role to play in a healthy gut. What we are doing is a prebiotic (beta-glucans) but there aren't any live cultures in the final product.
I do have concerns about how unregulated particularly the probiotic industry is today, many independent studies have found a huge number of products are basically snake oil.
I hope more research dollars continue to go into understanding what a healthy gut really is and subsequently we can begin to regulate claims around this in products. Also into understanding microbial communities in fermented foods better.
My hope is that the market as it is today doesn't create too much disillusionment before actually beneficial products can get ahead and show their worth, there are definitely a lot of legit products out there now but its hard for the average person to tell them apart from the BS ones.
What are a few legit products that might be available to the average consumer? And maybe one or two to avoid?
part of my argument is without further research its hard to know if something is truly legit in this area, however if you test a probiotic and the contents are fully dead, then it definitely isn't legit.
When I decide which food I will pick as my source of protein, macros are important to me. If it's real meat it's not even necessary to check the profile of the protein so I am only looking at how many grams of protein are there per 100g to compare different products.
I am not that knowledgeable about plant sources of protein and alternatives like yours but I know that essential amino acid profile is something that I should pay attention to, if I am planning to use your product as something to help me build muscle. If my calculation is correct then there should be ~10.7g of protein per 100g of your product, right?
How does your product compare to real meat when it comes to essential amino acid profile?
We definitely care about the nutrition, and we always have a higher protein to fat ratio than the meat we are replicating (so more protein per calorie). There is some amount of dietary fiber in there as well.
There is some evidence that fungi protein is easier to digest than plant proteins (possibly better than meat, certiainly close) overall and therefore build muscle, the micronutrients and amino acid profile is closer to that of meat than plants as fungi are genetically more closely related to animals than they are to plants which is one of the advantages we see.
EDIT: it seems I missed part of the question when I read this the first time, the amino acid profile is complete however we have not yet performed PDCAAS testing on our protein
The protein base we grow and use is from a Japanese fungi called koji is 80% protein so technically we can make a product that is 4x the amount of protein that is in chicken.
Our protein is a complete source of protein and fungi proteins have been found to build muscle even better than whey protein which is a gold standard and a PDCAAS of 1.
Friend looks at anything plant-based and calls it "ALL CARBS" because apparently only animal meat has protein... How do I convince friend there's protein in plants?
Nutrition facts label?
There are some meat alternative products other companies make that are "all carbs" but not all are, certainly not anything we make or will make, the whole point of what we are doing as I see it is to be high in digestible protein while tasting great!
Hi! Thanks for doing this AMA. I’m a first year food tech student, vegan chef, and ex-IT nerd. So I have like a bazillion questions but I’m too excited to formulate all of them now. I’ll start with a couple that immediately come to mind.
What currently available technology do you think has the most potential for application in plant-based meats?
Why is pea protein suddenly popping up everywhere? Likewise methylcellulose?
(Inb4 literally any tired joke about vegans)
I got a little laugh that you phrased your questions as a "formulation" task :)
I think fermentation is the largest area to explore, both things like what we are doing where we grow fungi as the main ingredient and a functional ingredient, but also the creation of specialty flavors.
I think pea protein is becoming common because it isn't soy or wheat which a lot of people are avoiding now where wheat and soy have been more commonly used in the past.
Thanks for your response. I have to admit I hadn’t thought much about fermentation, but I’m going to go on a research spree now.
One more question if you have time, because this AMA seems to be blowing up a bit; Any advice for someone who is looking to break into the plant-based meat industry?
We have internships from time to time that are available, you can reach out at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])
I'm not sure where you go to school but there also may be something to get involved with at your university
What's the little dodge's name and can you give him a pet for me?
His name is doge and I will give him an additional pet
I’ve been having a rough day and this made it better. Thanks you very much, and please give him a pet from me if you get the chance.
I'm so sorry to hear, I hope you're doing OK. Doge gives you a big (but very small) hug.
I've sampled my fair share of fake meat and some are pretty good, but facon is one i'm always disappointed with even if they taste alright.
I think it comes down to how the layers of fat and muscle tissue are organized in a slice of bacon. When you cook it the fat melts partially and the bacon cooks in it's grease. Plus the asymetry in shrinking between the 2 tissu makes the bacon wavy and make the cooking uneven in a pan, resulting in bits that are crunchy and bits that are tender.
With plant based, what I've sampled can have a pretty good taste (I'm fond of those using a bit of liquid smoke) and sometimes part of the texture (you mentioned koji), but although the strips looks like they have a dark and light streaks in them, nothing I've seen has that fatty part. None of them also melt and cook in their juice, they tend to be rather dry.
Is your product any different? Is there an attempt at recreating the fat/muscle layers, or does your focus on healthy food means that's not in your interest?
I want to eat ethically and ecologically. But, as you can tell, i love bacon.
We do have two different layers in our bacon where the fat layer shrinks faster than the meat layer and does release some juicyness into the pan. We do think it is more forgiving to cook if you add some oil to the pan beforehand as nutrition wise we have made a product much lower in fat, but you can cook it and it will fry itself without adding oil to the pan if you want. Our bacon does curl up and shrink when it is cooked.
when do you think this will be available in stores and restaurants?
In the next few months, so be on the lookout. Currently we have one product (Bacon) available for limited release on our website https://www.primeroots.com/
Where can i buy it/try it?
Right now you can order our bacon from our website in a limited release https://www.primeroots.com/products/prime-roots-bacon
we will be launching other products as fast as we can but it is going to take some time to get them all out, that's why we did a voting process on our website for all the products we have made. Bacon won our community voting so thats why we are doing it first!
Don't you have a conscience? putting American pigs out of work. I suppose you are for putting them on welfare and food stamps. What's a pig to do with people like you. /s
lol, I've always wanted a pet pig and I'll probably get one at some point when I'm not as busy and have a larger house, maybe they can go into careers like that?
How are you creating texture?
A lot of the texture comes from koji our main ingredient. On a microscopic level the koji fibers have a very close size and shape to muscle fibers so when we arrange them into larger structures it really helps with the mouthfeel as you chew into it.
So, can it be both crispy and chewy?
Yes! (I assume you are asking about bacon here) I prefer it crispy but if you cook it for less time you can get it more chewy as well.
Ron Swanson jokes aside, how do you ever hope to sell this product outside of a very narrow niche ?
Actually over half of the people who have joined our community waitlist for products and who have bought in Bacon our presale are people, eat meat as a part of their diet. I don't think we have to hope.
Can you go into more detail about how koji is used?
I've used it to fake age steaks and it leaves a consistent, unique taste on those that is very nutty and similar to real aging. Do your products have that unique Koji taste?
Very cool though, wish I was an investor! :)
Koji is our main ingredient! We use it for protein content as well as the natural umami, we have a slightly special way of preparing it which gives it a more neutral flavor overall which lets us get authentic flavors for different types of meat and seafood without a lot of distracting flavors to hide as you often get in plant based meat products.
The Koji also has a very similar microscopic structure to muscle fibers so it provides a basis for the textures we create as well.
Do you use a different food source for the fat content of the bacon? Protein is obviously important but bacon has a lot of fat.
Yes, the fats primarily come from plant sources rather than a fungi source
What kind of car do you drive?
Also, you say it acts, smells, and tastes like bacon...but bacon comes in many varieties. Is this a pre-prepared product or is it something we have to cook? A lot of us like crispy bacon. A lot of us like not so crispy bacon. Is this a "one bacon fits all" product or will we have varieties?
It is not a pre-cooked product and you need to cook it. You can cook the product to be either crispy or if you cook for less time it will be not so crispy, so one product fitting both needs. I prefer making it crispy myself.
I have a Volkswagen Alltrack, I wanted to get an electric car but when I was buying there weren't any good options with 4 wheel drive that I could afford (I am a skier and needed 4wd for driving in the snow and getting through chain control). Next car will be an electric truck hopefully.
I like beyond meat taste, and the only issue is the price. How much do you think your products’ price would be in the retail?
Right now we are pricing our product close to the premium meat version counterpart so in the case of bacon close to something like Niman Ranch or Applegate Organics. Over time we intend to lower the price as we achieve production scale (right now we are very small and young).
Do you think plant or fungi-based approaches for meat production are a more sustainable alternative for meat production in the long term, or just a stepping-stone for (comercially viable) lab-grown meat?
Fungal cells and plant cells require less inputs than animal cells, for instance the fungi we grow don't need protein/amino acids as inputs for growth. Given this even if lab grown meat becomes commercially viable one day (I have my doubts) pland and fungi based meat alternatives will always be significantly more efficient to produce so more sustainable and cost effective. There are also other disadvantages from a health perspective such as the presence of cholesterol in lab grown meat.
Anyways I belive that in the long run people will stop considering meat vs meat alternatives the way they do today and things like bacon will become more akin to a flavor such as something like vanilla or cherry is in our cultural consciousness.
Hi, as fungi cells are closer to animal than to plants ones, why advertising it as plant based?
Yes, that similarity is on a fundemental level why we use fungi instead of plant protein for the main ingredient. We do still use plant ingredients too so technically it is a blend of fungi and plant based ingredients. In the context of something that is a meat alternative plant based is just by far the most common term to refer to a product which doesn't use any animal products.
I'm a mycophile so thank you for your amazing work, what part of the fungi do you use? Why did you decide to use koji?
We use the mycelium because of the texture if provides and high protein content and also how we grow it. We chose Koji because it has a great umami flavor, grows really fast, great texture, and also has a super long history of use in food. We evaluated hundreds of different species before settling on koji.
Shut up and take my money?
Yea I have a question Mr. Science guy. What makes you think its ok to defile the name of bacon like that?
Au contraire, I think we're bringing the bacon back, baby! Everyone loves bacon, but obviously there's been awareness about the health, environmental, and ethical issues with bacon- bacon sales have been declining year over year: http://www.npa-uk.org.uk/Decline_in_bacon_sales_continues.html
You say it's a complete protein. How does it taste in a peanut butter and bacon sandwich?
My review here: https://twitter.com/nixonpjoshua/status/1228391355648315392
Are you guys accepting further investment? I’m thoroughly interested in this industry and how it will drastically help with our food source in the coming years. Keep up the great work!
We only accept investment from accredited investors, but feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]
I'm currently a big fan of Lightlife soy bacon, so I'm wondering what the main differentiator(s) will be to existing products on the market?
Most of the other questions/answers are about how your product is different from real bacon, but I'm curious how it'll be different from existing meat-free bacon alternatives.
Great question. We don't have soy or wheat/gluten in our product which is in all of the bacon-like alternatives on the market (and many people have allergies or sensitivities to these proteins). We also replicate the entire bacon experience from cooking to taste (it shrinks in the pan and browns like actual meat due to the similarity in the protein).
A) People like baconB) Current bacon production is inefficient and creates a lot of pollution
People LOVE bacon (myself included).
Hey Josh, what species of fungi is used to produce the product? I'm a mycologist and I'm very curious!
We use Koji (aspergillus oryzae), cool fact, it's the the national fungi of Japan.
Do you have a background in cooking or did you bring in professional chefs?
I have a fermentation background and have worked alongside my co-founder who is a culinologist (food scientist and chef basically) and we also have a team of professional chefs, including some high profile ones that we'll announce in a bit
How often do you personally consume your product?
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