This Plant-Based Meat and Seafood Is Made from Koji, an Umami-Packed Fungus

Prime Roots' whole-food protein is nearly identical in texture to meat.

black pepper faux bacon by Prime Roots
This is not real bacon.

Prime Roots

Most popular meat substitutes are made with soy and pea proteins or potatoes. They contain a lengthy list of additives to make them look, act, and taste somewhat like the meat they're meant to replace. And while they do a pretty decent job, some people wish there were options for whole meat alternatives, or at least versions that are less processed. 

Prime Roots is a California-based company that has come up with a convincing alternative. Its faux meat products are made from koji, a fungus that's a superstar in Japanese cuisine but has yet to become familiar in the United States. 

The fungi are grown in fermentation vats, where they develop long fibrous strands. These are strained out of their growing liquid, and plant-based fats and flavors are added in to make the final product. Company founder Kim Le told Fast Company in 2020: "The fibers are similar to chicken breast fibers in terms of their texture and what they look like."

Koji stands out for its rich umami flavor. After all, it's the same ingredient, Aspergillus oryzae, that's used to make miso, soy sauce, and sake. High-level chefs value it for the complex taste and tenderness it adds to many dishes, with Noma owner René Redzepi describing it as "indistinguishable from magic." When used for a faux meat substitute or seafood product, koji imparts a similarly deep and complex flavor.

maple bacon in packaging
Faux maple bacon in its package.

Prime Roots

Le tells Treehugger: "By itself, koji is identical in texture to meat and also packed with umami flavors, which makes it meaty and delicious. We grow the koji in the Bay Area and love that its fibrous textures and umami-rich taste make it the perfect alternative to meat and seafood. With koji, we are able to create any plant-based meat or seafood product you can think of."

Because the base of the faux meat products comes from the cultured fungus, Prime Roots is able to create whole-food protein alternatives that other companies cannot replicate with their much longer ingredient-based recipes. Prime Roots' goal, Le explains, is to tackle the items that are hardest to replicate, such as whole-cut bacon and chunks of seafood.

She went on to say that they're also healthier:

"Our plant-based products are minimally processed, made with a whole-food source of protein, and can offer more protein than conventional meat and seafood products. You can feel good about the food you are putting into your body and enjoy the umami-rich meaty taste and textures of our products without ingesting any GMOs, curing salts, hormones, additives, or antibiotics that are found in conventional meat or seafood products."

Seafood is a hot topic these days, thanks to the recent release of the "Seaspiracy" documentary on Netflix. Many people's eyes have been opened to the extreme damage caused by industrial-scale fishing and the bycatch that ensues and are wanting to find ways to reduce seafood consumption—and that's where Prime Roots hopes to become an industry leader.

"With the popularity of 'Seaspiracy', we have heard from thousands of our community members about their desire for plant-based seafood from both health and environmental perspectives," Le says. "Through our plant-based seafood offerings, more people are realizing how delicious and healthy seafood alternatives can be, and how they can reduce their own planetary impact to save our oceans."

lobster-stuffed ravioli
Ravioli stuffed with faux lobster is one of the company's most popular items.

Prime Roots

One of its first products, developed while Le was part of a University of California—Berkeley class called Plant-Based Seafood Collider, was a "salmon" burger that met rave reviews. More recently it debuted a lobster-stuffed ravioli that Le describs as "currently one of the most popular items on our menu." 

Prime Roots sells direct-to-consumer from its website, with a selection of flavored bacons and prepared meals available for shipping across the United States. As the company grows, it hopes to add more seafood options that look and taste just as great as the real thing.