Consumers may discard the stems of mushrooms when they prepare salads, or use them in cooking, but startup Chinova Bioworks has found a way to make use of the fibrous stems of white button mushrooms. The company—cofounded by CEO Natasha Dhayagude and COO David Brown—started in 2016 with a simple goal: to deliver clean-label ingredients and reduce food waste.

With consumers looking for clean-label products, there is increased pressure on food processors to remove industrial preservatives and replace them with natural preservatives. Chinova, located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, has found a clean-label solution for this issue derived from mushroom stems.

Using fiber extracted from the stems of white button mushrooms, Chiber is a healthy, clean label solution to improve the quality, freshness and shelf-life of many products, says Dhayagude. Chiber is non-allergenic and organoleptically neutral so it imports no flavor or textural changes to the products in which it’s used. It can be added to dairy, beverages, sauces and plant-based meats—and as a fining agent in beer (for those beers that may use any animal-based compounds).

Dhayagude’s team is made up of 90% women practicing in STEM fields. She was named Startup Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and Startup Canada’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019 for her role in co-founding Chinova. Dhayagude earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of New Brunswick.

We asked Dhayagude to fill in some details on the company and the process of extracting Chiber.

Natasha Dhayagude"Chiber is sold as a liquid solution and is soluble in applications like beverages, dairy, plant-based alternatives, sauces, spreads and dips."
Natasha Dhayagude, CEO and cofounder of Chinova Bioworks

FE: How and when did you start the company, Chinova?

Natasha Dhayagude: I met my cofounder, David Brown, at an entrepreneurship accelerator and incubator center in New Brunswick and found a common interest in the science of mushrooms, reducing food waste and sustainable solutions for clean-label ingredients. Looking to nature, we came across a natural and sustainable alternative to artificials in a fiber extracted from white button mushrooms. We launched Chinova Bioworks in 2016. Since then, we have been working tirelessly with our team to tap into the amazing protective qualities of this mushroom extract to maintain product quality, freshness, and shelf-life in a sustainable way, resulting in increased consumer satisfaction and reduced food waste.

FE: How did you discover that the mushroom stems could work as a preservative in food and beverages? 

Dhayagude: There were a few research articles stating the benefits of fibers extracted from mushrooms that we became interested in. Prior to developing the technology, we identified a big gap in the market as brands kept putting out proposals looking for innovative natural preservation solutions. When we saw these proposals, we dug into the research around these fibers from stems and found that there was in fact an antimicrobial benefit in a food and beverage solution. 

FE: White button mushroom stems are fibrous in nature, but are you using this fiber—or is there something you derive from the fiber? 

Dhayagude:  Fibers do naturally exist in mushrooms. We extract a specific fiber, which has the antimicrobial impact and is effective against a broad spectrum of spoilage microorganisms like bacteria, yeast and mold. This fiber is soluble and sold in a liquid form to brands. 

FE: How many mushroom stems does it take to make a certain quantity of Chiber?

Dhayagude: The mushroom extract is derived from the stems of white button mushrooms that exist in nature and are typically wasted or recycled. The process for making the mushroom extract is similar to how most plant fibers are naturally extracted. The processing involves drying the mushroom, grinding it, and using heat and water to purify out the fiber from the stems. The processing is minimal and eco-friendly and helps deliver a natural mushroom fiber that improves product quality, freshness, and shelf-life.

FE: How does this extracted fiber hold spoilage mechanisms like bacteria, yeast and molds at bay?

Dhayagude: The mechanism of action for this fiber is that it is positively charged. This positive charge interacts with the negatively charged cell membrane of the spoilage microorganism. This interaction renders the physical shearing of the cell membrane leading to intracellular leakage of the components of the cell, which eventually leads to cell death thus inhibiting the growth of these spoilage microorganisms. 

Cinova beer

Many brewed beers and other alcoholic beverages include animal-based compounds that are added throughout the production process. Chinova’s technology would provide brewers a vegan alternative to animal-based, isinglass fining agents and synthetic polyvinylpolypyrrolidone. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FE: Is there a set of food or beverage chemical characteristics where Chiber is most effective?

Dhayagude: Mushroom extract is effective in a broad range of pH levels from 2 - 6.5 and is a heat stable product through processes like pasteurization. 

FE: How is Chiber primarily applied? 

Dhayagude:  Chiber is sold as a liquid solution and is soluble in applications like beverages, dairy, plant-based alternatives, sauces, spreads and dips. The dosage is dependent on the application it is added into. 

FE: Why use Chiber in beer? 

Dhayagude: Many brewed beers, and other alcoholic beverages, include animal-based compounds that are added throughout the production process. For example, many include pepsin, a foaming agent obtained from stomach enzymes of pigs; chitin, derived from lobster and crab shells; as well as carmine, which is found in the crushed scales of cochineal insects. Another commonly used compound is isinglass, a kind of gelatin obtained from fish swim bladders. All of these are often used in the alcohol production and filtering process to make drinks appear clearer and brighter. Chinova’s technology would provide brewers a vegan alternative to animal-based, isinglass fining agents and synthetic PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) that has long been used in the beverage industry as a processing aid.

FE: What types of food/beverage companies are currently using Chiber? 

Dhayagude: Mushroom extract is used by a variety of companies large and small across North America. Currently it is used in various dairy, plant-based dairy alternatives, sauces, spreads, dips and beverages. We are constantly researching and developing new formulations to improve the quality, freshness and shelf-life of products.

FE: How is Chiber sold to clients?

Dhayagude: We just expanded our production capabilities to keep up with volume demand from clients. We sell Chiber by the pallet.