Mushrooms are grown in Brussels for beer and bread

published on Wednesday, October 05, 2022 at 08:37

In the country of beer, the national drink also serves the circular economy.

Convinced of the benefits of short-circuiting, the Brussels-based company recycles leftover beer and unsold bread to grow exotic mushroom varieties.

Hrybnik is located in the heart of the huge cellars of Anderlecht’s former slaughterhouses, where exhibitions and techno nights used to be held.

Wandering beneath the red-brick vaults, Quentin Declerc oversees the grinding of baguettes and dry breads used in the mixture intended to form the substrate, the basis for growing mushroom seeds.

“Beer and bread do not change the taste of mushrooms, but we have better results in terms of quantity and quality,” explains the Eclo co-founder, who has worked for several years with the Belgian brewing company Cantillon and Colruyt and Bon Pain. supermarkets to recover raw materials from the substrate.

These partnerships made it possible to recycle more than 18,000 kilograms of unsold bread and 5,000 kilograms of spent beer – leftovers from brewing – in 2021, while Belgians waste around 37 kilograms of food per person every year, according to the latest figures from WWF Belgium.

Aligned on racks installed in cold rooms, in a smoky and humid atmosphere, the substrates give mushrooms after one to three months.

Eclo grows seven varieties, mainly exotic species traditionally produced in Asia, such as shiitake, maitake or pompon, a mushroom that vaguely resembles cauliflower.

Still little-known mushrooms, at a slightly higher than average price: a box of 750 grams is sold on the Eclo website for 22 euros. “There is a real interest in rare varieties of mushrooms,” says Quentin Declerck, who produces eight to ten tons of these mushrooms a week.

– a long way –

In addition to the economic interest of reusing waste, Eclo is also part of a greener approach to urban food production.

“We realized that mushrooms in trade come from the Netherlands, a lot from Eastern Europe and often even from China,” explains Quentin Declerk. “Today there is a certain production that has been well adapted. We are part of this movement.”

According to the founders, the idea for Eclo, launched in 2014, came from reading a book on short circuits and the circular economy, in which the author mentioned the possibility of producing a substrate from coffee grounds.

A technique already used by another Brussels company and tested on a mushroom farm in Anderlecht in the early days. “It was a bitter failure,” laughs Quentin Declercq today, “shiitake doesn’t grow on the press at all.”

The company claims to have trained around thirty people with varying degrees of experience in using beer and bread to produce mushrooms.

“Some refused,” explains Quentin Declerck. “It’s still agriculture and it’s hard, we work in very humid greenhouses, sometimes we don’t see the sun during the day.”

Competition from large manufacturers also sometimes scares amateurs: “You have to deal with market prices, otherwise you won’t sell. We found our niche, so we pay people well, but many projects don’t pay off,” explains the co-founder of Eclo.

Other raw materials were tested in the mushroom house, for example, the formation of a substrate on cocoa beans. Eclo is also looking to expand and is preparing a substrate factory project for the European market.

According to a study published by Belgian startup Inoopa in April 2022, the number of circular economy companies in Belgium grew by 35% from 2019 to 2021.

The numbers are encouraging, but there is still a long way to go: a survey commissioned by the region of Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) showed last spring that 60% of the 2,500 regional companies surveyed were “not at all” familiar with the circular economy concept.

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