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Silicon Valley’s next meat substitute is being grown in a Morgan Hill mushroom lab

December 2, 2022

When it comes to trends in the sustainable food movement, the elusive plant-based meat alternative is often presented as a buzzy panacea. Now, there’s a fungus-based meat alternative debuting on the market, making waves in Silicon Valley’s high-end kitchens. Called Mamu, the mushroom-based substance developed by Sempera Organics comes packaged like ground beef and has already made appearances at Palo Alto’s Ettan and is coming soon to Los Altos’ Little Blue Door and Sunnyvale’s Oxford Kitchen and Gastropub. 

Made from ground mushrooms grown on chickpeas and then treated to remove some of the mushroom flavor, Mamu is gluten- and allergen-free, according to Sempera Organics CEO Nirmal Nair. There’s no flavoring or salt.

As plant-based options expand in part as a response to climate change, Mamu joins a market populated with existing brand-name meat alternatives produced by companies like Beyond Meat and Redwood City-based Impossible Foods that have partnered with restaurants and major chains nationwide. But it’s one of the few purveyors that has involved chefs in the tasting and testing process from the early stages, according to Ettan and Little Blue Door chef Srijith Gopinathan, chief culinary officer at Sempera Organics.    

The ingredient – so named as an inverted and truncated form of the word umami – was the centerpiece of a recent preview meal I participated in to introduce the product to local food journalists and investors. Held at Mista, a San Francisco-based accelerator for food innovation companies, the meal featured four rounds of vegetarian dishes prepared by Gopinathan ranging from Mamu gnocchi with pine nuts, squash, kale and brown butter to pad krapow Mamu, served with long beans and holy basil over jasmine rice.

Before the meal, Nair talked about how the company is aiming to scale quickly to sustainably feed many people. Part of the goal spurring the development of a meat substitute based on mushrooms is sustainability, according to the product’s website. Read more:

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