A sample of shredded mozzarella from a new company called Superbrewed Food tops a personal pizza, and it’s gooey and stretchy, with a slightly salty tang. The core protein of the cheese isn’t made with dairy, but neither is it plant-based. It’s made, instead, with microbes.
Superbrewed Food’s microbe-based protein is made through anaerobic fermentation—the same process that turns barley into beer and cabbage into kimchi—and the company says it can be used in both meat-free and dairy-free products. Superbrewed Food, which has a production facility in Little Falls, Minnesota, plans to launch with a line of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and mozzarella.
Consumers may be familiar with probiotics, living microorganisms usually consumed via supplements or in yogurts, and prebiotics, which are fibers that feed the bacteria in your gut microbiome. Fermented foods can contain probiotics, and our gut bacteria does the fermentation of prebiotics. But there’s another term: postbiotics, which are basically the result of all that fermentation. Superbrewed Food creates its protein by fermenting a deactivated probiotic (as opposed to one that is alive and active). “We’re the endpoint of that organism growing in your body,” Superbrewed Food CEO Brian Tracy says about their proprietary protein. “You’re absorbing it anyway. This is native to your nutrition.”
Tracy won’t reveal what specific microbe the company is fermenting to create its protein, since it is proprietary, but, he says, “You’ve been exposed to this microorganism a lot because it’s native to you.” Because the fermentation process is already common, they also didn’t need to invest in any new technology; their production facility uses commercial infrastructure that already exists, like the way beer is brewed in tanks.
“You grow it, you wash it, you dry it,” Tracy says, and it comes out as a complete protein. The result looks like a protein powder, with an “umami, slightly salty, creamy warm flavor.” From there, Superbrewed Food says it can create block cheeses, cream cheese, and fibrous textures for meat alternatives. “It has tremendous emulsification properties, so it has the ability to go into a lot of baked-good applications, egg-substitute applications,” he adds. “I think we’ll find many, many homes for this.”
Fermentation is emerging as another pillar in the meat- and dairy-alternative market, behind cultivated or lab-grown meat and the “tech” plant-based meats of Impossible and Beyond. Nature’s Fynd, which is making a fungus-based protein via fermentation, has raised a collective $158 million in funding. It’s not completely new—longtime vegetarian company Quorn uses fermentation for its protein, and fermented foods such as kimchi have been around for millennia—but microbial fermentation especially is “building the next generation of alternative protein products,” according to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit working to speed up the innovation of alternative proteins.
Tracy says their fermentation-based, microbe-based protein is sustainable, produced by a zero-waste fermentation process fed by corn; affordable, since the equipment for the anaerobic process already exists; and nutritious, with an 85% protein content and essential vitamins and minerals (one teaspoon of the protein has more than 20% of the daily recommended amount of B12, per the company). The company has already raised $45 million, and its advisers include Shep Gordon, a talent manager who has worked with big-name chefs including Emergil Lagasse and Nobu Matsuhisa; Einav Gefen, executive chef at Unilever Food Solutions; and Jonathan Gordon, creator of Silk soy milk.
Superbrewed Food has made samples of mozzarella, cream cheese, and cheddar, but the company still has to work on packaging and distribution; it hopes to release its first products sometime this year. Though the protein is “new to the world,” Tracy is confident people will be comfortable trying it out, just like how kombucha has become popular. “Frankly, we’ve been eating fermented foods for the longest time,” he says. “Now there’s a much greater appreciation that subsequently, the organisms themselves and the outputs the organisms create are so essential to our nutrition.”