Writing retreat in Tvärminne 19.-21.10.2022

The writing retreat has been an annual event, organized by the Food Materials Science Research Group since 2018, with the intent of setting aside the experimental work and shifting the focus to scientific writing activities. This year, we embarked on a journey to a different location and experienced three fruitful days at the Tvärminne zoological station of the University of Helsinki.

During our retreat in Tvärminne, a beautiful rural area in southern Finland, the members of our group, along with our group leader, Kirsi Mikkonen, got the chance to get together and be productive in a breathtaking place by the sea. We spent most of our time in the classroom, reserved for quiet working, which helped us productively engage in writing, some of us commencing new applications, others finishing old, nearly forgotten publications. Group meetings and fertile scientific discussions were held outside of the classroom. In addition to the hard-working time, everyone enjoyed the delicious meals and desserts during lunch and dinner. The group members sat together chatting, while admiring the amazing sea views. This gave us the opportunity to talk about each other’s work, and get to know new and old lab members better.

Following lunch, some chose to take a walk, enjoy the serene environment and admire wild berries and mushrooms. To reward ourselves after a long day of work, we indulged in going to the sauna and swimming in the cold waters, amongst some friendly jellyfish. After the sauna, we all got together to eat, play games and sing karaoke.

Overall, it was a unique experience, as we had the ability to work productively and share thoughts and ideas with our colleagues.

A year into making mushroom mycelia a mainstream food – Update on MyShroom

‘MyShroom’, funded by Business Finland’s Research to Business Programme, started in August 2021 with the aim to bring tasty, ecological, protein-rich fungal food to the growing vegan and meat alternatives market.

With an increasing global need for sustainable food, fungi are becoming an attractive option for consumers seeking nutritious, affordable, ecological, ethical, safe, easy-to-use, protein- and fiber-rich food. In our current practice, only about 5% of edible fungal material is consumed as mushrooms, while the rest remains unused in the form of mycelia, waiting for its potential to be unlocked as a sustainable food source. Through ‘MyShroom’, using liquid fermentation from food industry side-streams to feed and grow edible mushroom mycelia, we are not only creating attractive foods but also returning food waste back to humans to consume in a safe, ecological, and circular way.

We initially conducted the screening of 19 different varieties of edible mushrooms using 4 different food industry side-streams. In parallel, clearance from the University of Helsinki Ethical Review Board was obtained to conduct preliminary sensory evaluations which complemented the screening studies, leading us to choose a suitable mushroom variety and culture media. During the last year, we have optimised production, increasing mycelia yield and reducing growth time. We have been able to grow mycelia with additional fermentation products to obtain exceptional nutritional value with a sensory profile rich in mushroom, umami flavour and texture resembling egg white and meat. We have also developed a mycelia-based cheese analogue and validated the product type with a consumer pool, which developed our understanding about what customers are expecting from alternative food products. We have also managed to engage a great number of potential stakeholders from multiple countries within various branches of food industry such as plant-based food, ready-made food, dairy, bakery, pet food, and fine dining restaurants.

In the upcoming year, we will develop strategies to utilise our existing vertical farming facilities to scale our production from laboratory to pilot and then industrial scale. By having our stakeholders participate in our early phase piloting and product validation testing, we are expecting to establish partnerships with manufacturers and potential customers. With many industry partners showing keen interest towards our products, their feedback based on customer needs will help us to finalise our product/s. We will also conduct product texture development, sensory evaluation, and consumer perception studies. In the alternative food market, mushroom mycelia bring added value to customers in a tastier, healthier manner with clean label benefits.

Ultimately, we want to produce food that is healthy for you as well as the environment and edible mushroom mycelia, which are full of potential, will help us get there.


MyShroom Team: Shuddhodana, Jutta Varis, Minna Isotupa, Marko Saapunki, Pauliina Lankinen, Pekka Varmanen, Mari Sandell, Laila Seppä and Kirsi Mikkonen.

The team is supported by Elena Inguglia and Kajsa Kajander from Helsinki Innovation Services.

Picture from left to right: mycelia, sensory attributes, mycelia cornucopia (drawn by Julia Varis).

A new Academy of Finland (AoF) postdoc research project explores an innovative way to utilise wood hemicelluloses

Wood hemicelluloses are currently treated as low-value by-products of the pulp and paper industry and remain outside of the biorefinery process. The development of value-added applications of hemicelluloses for producing new advanced products will boost forestry operations, promote economic growth, and secure employment in rural areas. To support this goal, Thao Minh Ho in the FoMSci group received funding for a 3-year AoF postdoc research project to develop an innovative approach to employ wood hemicelluloses as capsule wall materials to formulate new synbiotic powders. The project entitled “SynCap: Design of spray-dried synbiotic microcapsules for healthy, functional, and sustainable powders” aims to establish wood hemicelluloses as superior wall materials in the production of microcapsules of probiotics, and potentially many other bioactive compounds.

This project will bring the interdisciplinary expertise and knowledge in food materials sciences, food chemistry, food digestion and microbiology from different research groups within the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry. The project also establishes a new collaboration with the Biomass Science and Technology research group at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark).

Every year, the AoF funds high-quality scientific research in various fields with the aim of contributing to the renewal, diversification and internalisation of Finnish research. The SynCap project is one of 32 successful applications (out of 217, 15%) in biosciences, health and the environment research fields granted in 2022.

New project: VegeSense aims to secure the supply of high-quality vegetable products

Left: M.Sc. Maria Waldén. Right: Dr. Mourad Kharbach.The food chain is in a shift towards more ecological practices. To feed the growing world population in a sustainable manner, it’s crucial to find solutions to reduce food waste and shift our eating habits to remain within the boundaries of environmental resources. To succeed, the movement towards a planetary diet must be appealing, affordable and uncomplicated for consumers. With ready-cut fresh vegetables consumers can conveniently increase their consumption of fresh vegetables, however the shelf-life of this product category is very limited due to rapid quality loss, often because of over-ripening, browning and tissue degradation, which leads to significant amounts of food waste.

Currently, the underlying deterioration mechanisms after processing and packaging are not sufficiently understood. To tackle this waste, our new project VegeSense, led by Assoc. Prof. Kirsi S. Mikkonen and funded by Novo Nordisk Foundation, aims to provide complementary understanding of these deterioration processes by researching the key metabolites and their role in the quality loss of ready-cut fresh vegetables.

M.Sc. Maria Waldén started in the project as a doctoral researcher in January. Her work is co-supervised by Prof. Mari Sandell and Assoc. Prof. Saijaliisa Kangasjärvi and it will focus on how packaging effects the sensorial quality of ready-cut vegetables and what volatile compounds originate from their metabolic reactions, thus defining their shelf-life. Maria feels very excited about the topic and finds it immensely meaningful, as there is a high possibility of finding solutions that could be applied to practice at an industrial scale rather quickly to reduce environmental pressure. The project is highly multidisciplinary combining food technology, analytical chemistry, plant science and data science. This diversity will allow these complex mechanisms to be deciphered through research from a combination of perspectives and scientific backgrounds.

Dr. Mourad Kharbach started in March as a postdoctoral researcher. He will collaborate with Assoc. Prof. Arto Klami from the Department of Computer Science. Mourad has experience working with large data sets collected by advanced real-time (spectral or chromatography) instruments from different matrices and extracting the hidden information by means of statistical, machine & deep learning, or chemometric tools and linking these with the desired outputs. Particularly, he will develop statistical approaches to analyze untargeted and targeted fingerprinting (e.g., hyperspectral imaging, spectroscopic, and chromatographic) profiles moving beyond traditional lab-based experiments. Mourad will lead the development of non-destructive, fast, reliable, and sensitive methods for sustainable solutions of food materials in terms of quality and safety with the goal to optimally join human forces and machines.

Through this project we aim to provide solutions for reducing food waste and limiting climate change via the improved shelf-life of fresh-cut vegetables and their increased consumption. The resulting improvements in packaging technology would be highly applicable to the food industry and could therefore help the food industry to keep costs – both environmental and economical – in control, which we hope would eventually lead to a decrease in prices and increase in vegetable consumption. By making it financially possible for consumers to conveniently increase their use of fresh vegetables in their diets, healthy eating habits and sustainability can be enhanced.

We are eagerly waiting for another two researchers from the areas of plant science and analytical chemistry to join us in June, complementing our team with their expertise. We will hear more about their work soon, stay tuned!

Picture from left to right: M.Sc. Maria Waldén, spectral imaging test setup, Dr. Mourad Kharbach.