Chinova Bioworks co-founders Dave Brown and Natasha Jean have come up with a natural ingredient from white button mushrooms that naturally preserves food and drinks without changing the flavour or texture. John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Fredericton firm that’s already won praise for reducing food waste has launched two new products it hopes could eventually transform the wine industry worldwide.

Executives at Chinova Bioworks say they’ve developed two new products that have caught the interest of California winemakers who want to slap the labels “sulphite free” and “vegan friendly” on their bottles.

One is a Mycrobrio, a natural preservative that would replace sulphites that cause some people health problems. The other is MycoKleer, a new clarifying agent that would replace the animal products gelatin and isinglass, used to fix the haze and colour in white and red wines.

“Across the food and beverage landscape, consumers want clean, natural and sustainable ingredients,” says CEO Natasha Jean, who co-founded the company in 2016 with chief operating officer Dave Brown, both biochemists who studied at the University of New Brunswick. “As people have become more educated about what they’re eating and drinking, their expectations are greater. They want clean products.”

When the two millennials met about eight years ago, they were admitted “ingredient freaks” who were fond of reading labels and talking about the latest, fanciful treats they were eating and drinking.

They weren’t impressed by the natural preservatives on the market, such as rosemary and citrus extracts, because they change the flavour and consistency of food and beverages.

So they went through the scientific literature and put their minds into solving the problem of bacteria, yeast and mould spoiling food over prolonged periods.

The company quickly found success with its first trademark, Chiber, an extract from the stems of white button mushrooms. It preserves food and drink for months, without affecting taste or texture, and can replace benzoates and sorbates, the most common chemical preservatives in products you’ll find in the grocery store.

Companies that want to market their products as natural and healthy have enlisted Chinova to buy the magical ingredient, which can be used in six product lines: dairy, plant-based dairy, plant-based meat, sauces and spreads, beverages and baked goods.

So far, most of the interest has been shown from firms who market high-end products, such as Chubby Snacks based out of San Francisco. By using Chiber in its healthy, ready-to-go peanut butter and jelly snacks, Chubby has extended the shell-life of the product from one to six months.

Another company closer to home, Moonshine Creek Distillery in Waterville, near Hartland, uses the company’s mushroom extract to remove the natural sedimentation and haze in its best-selling Apple Crumble cocktail.

Investors such as DSM in the Netherlands and Rich Products Ventures and Rhapsody Venture Partners in the United States have shown great interest, already pouring $10.5 million into the company, which last year opened a 20,000 square foot production facility in Charlottetown, where thousands of kilograms of white button mushroom stems are processed. The space inside the Bioscience Manufacturing Incubator was paid for through a $250,000 repayable contribution to Ottawa.

Jean won’t disclose the private company’s revenues but says it’s profitable.

As part of its food waste reduction challenge, the federal government shortlisted 30 companies across Canada that submitted bids to win the $1.5 million top prize for reducing food waste. Chinova made it through the first two rounds, winning $500,000 so far, and is still alive among the final six firms, with the winner being crowned early next year.

It can boast reducing waste two ways: in the product that keeps food on shelves and in fridges longer and in recycling hundreds of kilograms of button mushroom stems that farmers normally throw out. The mushrooms you see in the store already have their stems trimmed, and the leftovers are normally wasted.

On a recent tour of Chinova’s Fredericton lab in Knowledge Park, Jean and Brown showed the former federal agricultural minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, how their product can save products from spoilage, without changing the taste or texture. Brown opened two small containers of cream cheese.

One had a spongy fungus on top, but the other looked clean and fresh.

“These were made about a month ago,” Brown said, as the minister nodded. “As you can see, the control has already gone bad, whereas with Chiber it’s still looking perfect and good for eating.”

Jean, who most people in Fredericton know by her maiden name of Dhayagude, was particularly proud to tell Bibeau that the majority of the 35 employees with the firm are women who studied STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), many of them at the University of New Brunswick or the University of Prince Edward Island.

“That was my personal mission that I prioritized,” she told Brunswick News. “I was a woman in STEM and I really wanted to bring women in STEM, not just in the junior level onto teams, but at the executive level. So a lot of our managers and department heads are women in STEM. It’s always nice to see women in executive roles because you don’t see that often in biotech.”

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 08, 2023 at 06:08

This item reprinted with permission from   The Daily Gleaner   Fredericton, New Brunswick

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