If Coke really wants to kick soda’s image as the cause of a public-health crisis, the answer may involve mushroom dust. A three-year-old start-up out of Colorado has developed a rather novel use for the fungus: A small amount mixed into sweet foods helps block bitter flavors, freeing food-makers from the burden of having to add heaps of sugar or artificial sweeteners to mask the off-putting taste. To do it, the start-up collects mycelium (part of the root system mushrooms grow out of), which it dries and crushes into a fine powder, then stirs into products as they’re being processed.
Quartz explains what happens when a person takes a bite:
When one of the those products, such as a chocolate bar, hits the mouth of a consumer, the invisible mycelium molecules attach themselves to the bitter-detecting tastebuds of their tongue. The molecules only sit on the tongue for about 10 seconds before saliva flushes them away. But that 10 seconds is long enough to block the bitter flavors that many consumers find distasteful.
The start-up, called MycoTechnology, thinks the product can revolutionize the entire food industry by providing an alternative to sugar replacements like aspartame and saccharin that’s healthier but also doesn’t impart the weird aftertaste found in most artificial sweeteners. So far, the team has successfully used mycelium to halve the sugar content in items like yogurt and fruit cups, products with a go-to sweetener of high-fructose corn syrup. The company already signed a big stevia producer as well as Ardent Mills — a massive flour company that’s on the forefront of helping conventional farmers go organic — as customers, and it’s about to kick off a $50 million round of funding that should finance a fivefold increase in production.