Inside a lab in Aurora, Colorado, scientists at Mycotechnology have been trying to figure out a way to replace sugar with mushrooms. Certain mushrooms, the logic goes, can take away bitterness and naturally sweeten foods, like coffee and chocolate.
The startup has most recently engineered a dark chocolate bar (with 8 grams of sugar and 293 calories) that has had about 66% of its sugar replaced with mushrooms, Mycotechnology’s CEO, Alan Hahn, tells Business Insider.
“Our goal from the start was to make it possible for products to be healthy but also taste great,” he says.
Sugar is usually added to raw chocolate for two purposes: first, to mask the natural bitterness, and second, to sweeten it. The mushroom extract masks chocolate’s bitterness, so the eight grams of sugar that’s added is just for extra sweetness.
When the chocolate hits your tongue, according to Mycotechnology, the mushroom extract acts as a bitterness shield. The chocolate’s bitter molecules don’t bind with your taste buds, so you don’t perceive them.
I was sceptical, so I decided to try it. When I opened the package, the 15-piece bar looked like it was covered in a swirly film.
The consistency was a little harder than a typical chocolate bar. It also had a lingering aftertaste that I couldn’t quite place (but what I’m guessing is the mushrooms).
Other than that, it tasted just as sweet as typical dark chocolate, and nothing like mushrooms.
The process of making the bar is a little complicated. First, the company produces what it calls a “mushroom root liquid,” by extracting the roots from chaga mushrooms, which commonly grow on birch trees in cold climates. It then lets a small amount soak in water to form the liquid.
The team sprays the liquid onto cacao beans (the main ingredient in chocolate) and lets it sit for about a week. Once dry, the beans go through the normal chocolate-making process, where they’re roasted, ground, and heated to a high temperature. At the end of that process, the team adds fibre, cocoa butter, and sugar, and then cools the mixture to harden it.
Hahn and Pete Lubar, Mycotechnology’s COO, came up with the idea to swap sugar for mushrooms after 30 years of mycology research. To develop the chocolate bar, Mycotechnology worked with chocolatiers from Utah-based artisan manufacturer Amano. It sells at an artisanal price tag, too — a pack of 6 two-ounce bars is available online for A$40.
In 2015, the company developed its first product: non-bitter coffee, which is produced in a similar process as the chocolate, but with coffee beans.
Mycotechnology is now working on eliminating 99% of chocolate’s added sugar using mushrooms. The goal, Hahn says, is to produce sweeter chocolate with less sugar.
Mycotechnology is not the only company marketing chocolate bars as a healthy superfood. Sacred Chocolates makes a nutrient-rich vegan bar with chaga and reishi mushrooms, similar to Mycotechnology, though it uses coconut sugar. Other bars have low amounts of sugar and promise other (though not totally proven) benefits. YesCacao says its bars’ cacao “is a vasodilator, meaning it expands the blood vessels. This is a perfect way to increase the body’s ability to absorb the lengthy list of select superfoods.”
If any of those can satisfy my sweet tooth without as much sugar, I’m a fan.