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Join host Paul Shapiro as he talks with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Sep 15, 2020

Think about how many plants there are: hundreds of thousands of different species. Yet when you look at plant-based meats, nearly all are made of one or more of just three of those plant species: soy, wheat, and pea. And there’s good reason for it: those plants are relatively cheap and plentiful, they taste good, and they function quite well as alt-meats under certain conditions that have been studied at length. 

But what if it were possible to make meat alternatives with a different species than one of those three? In fact, a species so different it’s not even a plant at all. That’s exactly what Kimberlie Le of Prime Roots is doing.

Instead of seeking to build a supply chain for a new kind of plant protein, Kim is creating her own supply chain for making animal-free protein, brewing a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae into whole food meat alternatives. For those of you not familiar, fungi are not plants nor are they animals: they’re an entirely different kingdom of organisms. We typically associate fungi with mushrooms, but mushrooms are just the fruiting body of a fungus, kind of like an apple on a tree. And in fact, most fungal species don’t even produce mushrooms anyway.

But back to aspergillus: It’s also known as koji, and humans have been enjoying this particular fungus for centuries in the form of soy sauce, miso, sake, and more. But rather than using it as a processing aid, Kim’s start-up Prime Roots is simply using fermentation to collect the biomass of the fungus itself and turning it into animal-free meat. 

As you’ll hear, the idea for the company came to Kim while in a college course. Three years later, she’s now raised millions of dollars, is operating a 12,000 square foot production facility, and has already released a flagship product, bacon made from koji.

So enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with an entrepreneur who’s betting that the next big thing in plant-based meat isn’t going to be plants at all. If Kim has her way, just maybe the next big trend among advocates for local, artisanal protein won’t be farm to table, but rather will be fermenter to table, with Prime Roots brewing the way forward. 

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