Visit The Scelta Institute in Venlo, the Netherlands, and you’ll see how Scelta Mushrooms lives up to its slogan, “dare to share.”
The attractive building is the headquarters of Scelta Mushrooms and the base for Scelta’s sales, marketing and innovation activities. In addition to office space and meeting rooms, the building hosts a state-of-the-art kitchen, where chefs test new recipes, a restaurant and wine cellar, and a small mushroom demonstration nursery.
Its doors are open to third parties who can use the facilities as a venue for seminars, tastings, courses and networking events. “A place to be inspired,” says Jeroen Dekkers, who is responsible for marketing activities at Scelta Mushrooms. “Promising new concepts were born here, in co-creation with our partners.”
Scelta Mushrooms is active in various market segments, from frozen and preserved mushrooms to flavorings and mushroom snacks. The common mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, is its main product, but the company also sells mung bean sprouts and products containing vegetables like carrots, onions and broccoli.
“Our company is the world’s largest player in the individually quick-frozen mushroom segment,” says Dekkers. The use of liquid nitrogen ensures an optimal preservation of the mushrooms’ form, structure, taste and nutritional value. The company’s production process includes a high-quality compost as a breeding ground that, in the dark and under strictly controlled conditions, fills up with a network of white threads—the mycelium.
When covered by a casing soil, the white pins of the mushrooms push up after some time, and are subsequently harvested with specialized equipment. “Sustainability is important to us,” adds Dekkers, explaining that no chemicals or pesticides are used, gas emissions are recycled, and the remaining compost and topsoil are reused as fertilizer for land improvement.
‘Winnovation’ as the foundation of Scelta’s business philosophy
“Together with our growers and production partners, we are continually looking for new taste sensations, sustainable opportunities and healthy new products,” states Dekkers. The company had already been thinking about deep-fry mushroom snacks for some time, but the amount of moisture in frozen mushrooms presented a challenge. In a testing session with 30 chefs, Scelta Mushrooms tackled the problem and discovered a specific way to coat the mushrooms that allowed safe deep-frying. “This works for other vegetables as well,” says Dekkers, “so now we are supplying a whole range of vegetarian snacks with various coatings.” Recently Scelta developed a low-calorie snack called “Fingerfoodballs”—a healthy, tasty alternative snack for parties and (sports) events.
Scelta also came up with a sustainable packaging solution: environmentally friendlier Ecobags, designed to keep mushrooms fresh and tasty for the food service and retail market while using less energy and producing significantly less waste than traditional cans. “The days of can-based preservation are numbered,” says Dekkers.
Another “winnovation” involves a procedure in which mushrooms are boiled in their own juice, with or without the addition of mushroom concentrate—and with no additives. “We deliver flexible, sterilized packages under the motto ‘use the juice’—and these make an ideal basis for soups, stocks and sauces,” explains Dekkers.
The mushroom concentrate is rich in umami (“deliciousness” in Japanese), so it can be used as a flavor enhancer, for instance, to reduce the use of salt or monosodium glutamate. “The flavorings are manufactured in our Waste2Taste process,” says Dekkers. From processing wastes such as stems and cooking juices, Scelta produces a concentrate that can also be spray-dried into a powder form. “One kilogram of concentrated taste equals 25 kilogram of fresh taste,” adds Dekkers.
From commodity to specialty — introducing funginal® foods
People have been consuming edible fungi for thousands of years, valuing them not only for nutrition and taste, but also for their health-supporting properties. Scelta Ceuticals®, an affiliate of the Scelta Group established in the beginning of 2011, develops products based on wholesome fungi that support the health of animals and humans.
Within a year after its launch, the company brought to market three types of “funginal® foods,” based on the South American almond mushroom. They market human dietary supplements, called Murill, as capsules. In addition, they manufacture a product for the animal feed market and a food ingredient.
“We started with the almond mushroom, officially known as Agaricus blazei murill,” says Wim van den Elshout, managing director and co-owner of Scelta Ceuticals®. The almond mushroom is popularly known as “Cogumelo do Sol” (mushroom of the sun) in Brazil and “Himematsutake” (princess of the mushrooms) in Japan. Scelta Ceuticals® chose this species because “a lot of research had already been published about its health benefits,” Van den Elshout explains, adding, “the almond mushroom has a significant history of human consumption in Europe, hence, it is not considered to be a novel food.”
While a health claim dossier indicating immune-supporting and immunomodulating properties of Agaricus blazei murill was already filed in 2007, it is still under evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. Looking ahead, Scelta Ceuticals® will also study the beneficial effects of mushrooms like Cordyceps, Ganoderma and Maitake. However, the commercialization of derived products will take significantly longer than Murill products due to legislative issues.
Agaricus blazei murill is known for its immunomodulating properties. “This mushroom contains high concentrations of 1,3-1,6 beta glucans, which are components of the mycetes’ cell walls. They support the immune system in a way that the organism is triggered to produce macrophages,” explains Van den Elshout.
In addition to these polysaccharides, ergosterol (provitamin D2), important for the absorption of calcium, is present in relatively high concentrations. Van den Elshout goes on to say, “Our industrial production process for the dietary supplement is based on a unique liquid fermentation process of the mushroom mycelium. After drying, a 100 percent natural Murill powder results, free from herbicides and pesticides. Moreover, there are hardly any heavy metals present in our cultures—we guarantee that their amount is well under limits set by authorities.” Scelta Ceuticals® will study potential applications of Murill products, for instance with respect to combatting allergies, in clinical settings, in collaboration with two universities in the Netherlands.
“In addition to the dietary supplement, a food ingredient based on Murill-fermented rye has been developed,” says Van den Elshout. He goes on to explain: “We are on the verge of launching a bake-off bread called Silverbread.”
Scelta Ceuticals® developed this concept in close cooperation with Koopmans Meel and is targeting consumers aged 45-plus. Murill mycelium is fermented on rye, and subsequently milled to flour and used as an ingredient in bread. “And we’ve added glucans from oats and a concentrate from common mushrooms to this bread,” says Van den Elshout. “As a result, complementary to the support of the immune system, lowering of blood cholesterol can be claimed, and we’ve achieved a very significant 40 percent reduction in salt, retaining taste and baking properties.”
Scelta Ceuticals® is also testing the health-supporting activities of Agaricus Blazei Murill in the context of animal feed. For this purpose, they are using the same mycelium-fermented rye, which they grind into a ready-to-use feed material. “Livestock with strong and balanced immune systems will have a better resistance to pathogenic organisms and, as a result, will be less susceptible to infections,” says Van den Elshout. “In this way, our products may contribute to compliance with the strict policies to cut antibiotic use that many countries have adopted.”
The Murill-containing feed material has been tested in laying hens for almost a year now, with very promising results. “Mortality is reduced by 30 percent among the animals receiving our Murill product in addition to their regular feed. Moreover, 4.5 percent more eggs are being produced by these laying hens,” reports Van den Elshout.
“I hope that we have shown that innovation is in Scelta’s genes,” says Dekkers, smiling as he goes on to say that they carry out innovation activities in various research fields. For example, Scelta Mushrooms is working on a biometric passport for mushrooms, which will facilitate the identification of new, interesting mushroom-derived components. At the moment, Scelta Mushrooms is studying the use of mushroom-derived chitin and its derivatives, glucosamine and chitosan, as products of the Waste2Taste process. Another compound found in mushrooms is mannitol, a natural sweetener. “As we continue our discoveries,” conclude Dekkers and Van den Elshout, “undoubtedly, there will be more to come.”
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This post is a reprint of an article that appeared in Food for Thought, a newsletter from the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency that reports on agrofood activities and advances within the Netherlands.