Finnish Startup Revives 1960s Mycoprotein as Novel Food Ingredient


Forgotten 1960s Fungus Protein Revived by Finnish Upstart

A Finnish biotech upstart is breathing new life into a proprietary fungus-derived protein first developed in the 1960s, aiming to capitalize on soaring demand for sustainable, high-quality alternative protein sources.

Enifer Bio has resurrected "Pekilo" - a single-cell mycoprotein originally engineered over 15 years by scientists in Finland's paper industry seeking solutions for mill waste treatment. While initially commercialized as an animal feed ingredient, the startup believes Pekilo's true potential lies in the burgeoning market for human food applications.

"It was actually thanks to a retired R&D director from dairy giant Valio who remembered this long-forgotten process," recounted Simo Ellilä, Enifer's CEO and co-founder. "We were stunned to learn paper engineers had essentially invented an early alternative protein back in the 1970s."

After an extensive archival excavation to recover Pekilo's production methods from dusty records, Enifer has now secured €33 million in Series B funding to construct the world's first commercial-scale mycoprotein facility using food industry sidestreams as feedstock.

The state-of-the-art 500kg per hour biorefinery in Kirkkonummi will employ fermentation to transform waste products like dairy lactose into a versatile, high-protein powder optimized for human consumption. From plant-based burgers to baked goods, Pekilo's neutral taste allows broad application across sweet and savory recipes.

"Our goal is to drive down costs while enhancing quality for the next wave of plant-based foods," Ellilä stated. "Pekilo can be that affordable, premium protein ingredient the industry needs."

While far from the first mycoprotein on the market – Quorn being the most well-known – Enifer believes its dry powder format bestows unique advantages like extended shelf life. The startup also touts Pekilo's eco-friendly credentials, upcycling what would otherwise be discarded waste streams.

Before hitting grocery aisles, however, Pekilo must first clear regulatory hurdles as a novel food item – a lengthy approval process Enifer feels positioned to navigate by leaning on a wealth of existing safety data amassed during its original development decades ago.

"We have an exceptionally strong case file, with volumes of scientific material stretching back to the 1960s that most novel food applicants simply can't match," Ellilä told TechCrunch confidently.

If greenlighted for human consumption, the revived mid-century protein could soon find its way into plant-based fare from burgers to yogurts to baked goods as food makers explore more sustainable, premium alternative protein sources.

For Enifer, it would mark a remarkable renaissance for a mycoprotein first cultivated in the unlikely setting of paper mills over half a century ago to tackle an entirely different environmental challenge.