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Vegetarian food isn’t exactly uncommon in Malaysia. Sure, it’s not as widespread as it could be, but there are quite a lot of movers and shakers in the scene introducing plant-based options.

In the past year, Vulcan Post has featured relatively young brands like Meamo Foods, Pinxin Vegan Cuisine, In The Pink Co., and VECO Burger, which all address different areas in the vegan F&B landscape.  

But one brand that’s been present in the scene for some time now is called VegeWorld, which has been around since 1998.

VegeWorld carries products like vegan seafood tofu, vegetarian nuggets, and your usual run-of-the-mill vegan products.

However, in 2021, a new brand would be spawned from this original company. Going by the name of Ultimeat, it aimed to go a step further from what VegeWorld was doing.

Embracing a new age of vegetarian food

A proud third-generation vegetarian, Edwin Lee found fast food options in Malaysia to be incredibly unhealthy. With that, he founded Ultimeat in 2021 to serve that gap with its burger patties and nuggets.  

But they aren’t stopping there. Ultimeat isn’t just another plant-based meat alternative in the market. Rather, it’s a biotech startup that’s recently just launched an exciting new product—mycoprotein.

Mycoprotein (mycelium-based protein) is essentially protein derived from fungus. Or to make things even easier, it’s mushroom protein.

But it’s actually not that simple. Mycoprotein isn’t just mushrooms dressed up to look like real meat. No, it’s actually produced through a process of fermentation, creating what is essentially like animal protein without using any animal cells at all.

Edwin told us that they had restructured the company to go down this route, dubbing it Food 3.0. 2.0, he said, is about plant-based (i.e. soy-based). But, why?

A big motivator for this jump, he said, was economics.

With experience producing soy-based products and other sorts of plant-based meats, Edwin knows firsthand that importing the raw materials is very expensive in Malaysia.

A dish featuring mycoprotein and tempeh

However, with mycoprotein, he said you could just buy the necessary products once, then continue from there.  

Dr. Yu-Wei Lin, who is the CTO at Ultimeat, told Vulcan Post that fermentation technology is highly sustainable as there is no need for a farm, just a tank. The equipment used by the startup is being designed internally, too.

With these developments, Ultimeat is now regarded as the first innovative precision biotech fermentation Malaysian company that produces meat replacement products.

All products are made in their Klang factory, though their lab is in located in a MRANTI facility.

The better choice?

When asked about how mycoprotein stands out when compared to all the other meat alternatives (such as jackfruit-based meat to lab-grown meat), Edwin simply said, “This is a different space.”

Plant-based and fruit-based meats belong in Food 2.0, while cultivated meats still have a long way to do in order to be scalable.

The floss in this risotto is made using Ultimeat’s mycoprotein

Indeed, financial and environmental sustainability aside, another great thing about mycoprotein is that it’s scalable. This scalability allows it to address concerns of food security as well.

“We don’t need any more plantations,” he said. “We can duplicate this technology in any country.”

In fact, Edwin said Ultimeat is already collaborating with businesses in various companies in the APAC region, sharing their fermentation technology with people who can use them.

The future of protein, the protein of the future

At the end of the day, it all comes down to acceptance. Can Malaysians (and those beyond) really accept this “meat”?

Dishes incorporating Ultimeat’s mycoprotein

Taste would play a big role in answering that. Recently, we were invited to Nimbus Restaurant in Damansara Utama to enjoy a six-course tasting menu that incorporates Ultimeat’s mycoprotein. And yes, every single dish used the product—even the dessert.

Compared to other vegan proteins we’ve tried, it’s a much more neutral-tasting product. You can read further about our experience here.

Before acceptance, though, awareness and education must also take place. The strategy for Ultimeat is to make the information digestible.

Aside from end consumers like myself, though, Ultimeat will also be targeting other businesses such as restaurants, especially those who are cognisant of their carbon footprint.

Image Credit: Ultimeat

This means explaining mycoprotein in simple terms (i.e. mushroom protein, rather than fermented protein), and pointing out the nutritional benefits of using mushroom instead of, say, soy (it has higher dietary fibre).

Edwin revealed that Ultimeat will be rolling out its mycoprotein products in the next quarter, starting from ecommerce avenues. The range will include not just various ready-to-eat items, but even a protein drink.

From there, the big-picture vision would be making this mycoprotein-based meat the ultimate meat substitute of the future.  

  • Learn more about Ultimeat here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

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