In Brussels, three thirty-year-olds are growing shiitake mushrooms. They are reusing the waste from microbreweries in the world’s beer capital to produce these Japanese mushrooms.
Rich in protein, shiitake mushrooms are a meat substitute, and an ecological alternative to meat production, which is globally the largest emitter of greenhouse gases – even ahead of transport!
Have you heard of brewers’ grains? They are the residue from brewing malt, itself made from barley. In short, a by-product of Brussels’ numerous breweries. Organic waste available in quantity in the world’s beer capital - recently included on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Only 10% of the ingredients used to make the famous Belgian beverage end up in the beer you drink.
Three Brussels associates - Sevan and Hadrien, later joined by Thibault – thought about it and came up with an idea: use the brewers’ grains available almost next door to produce shiitake mushrooms under the banner Le Champignon de Bruxelles.
These Japanese mushrooms are renowned for their fragrant taste and their nutritional and even medicinal qualities – benefits that are still relatively unexplored in Europe, although shitake are the second most frequently consumed mushrooms in the world.
Exit coffee grounds
When the Champignon de Bruxelles adventure began in the summer of 2014, the aim of our young entrepreneurs was to produce healthy food by exploiting the city’s organic waste resources. They first set their sights on coffee grounds.
Every year 11,000 tonnes of coffee are consumed in the Belgian capital. Coffee grounds seemed to be the obvious organic waste candidate to use as a substrate for growing their mushrooms. Unfortunately the coffee grounds did not suit the shiitake...
Totally committed to a cradle to cradle approach, Belgian version, they wanted to use a 100% Brussels substrate. They decided then to collect brewers’ grains from the numerous micro-breweries in the capital’s streets.
In the Caves de Cureghem, just under the Abattoirs d’Anderlecht shiitake are the flagship for urban agriculture in Brussels. They are inoculated into a vat containing the brewers’ grains that have been previously been transformed into a substrate after pasteurization. They are grown in plastic bags on wood chips, also from collected waste.
Once the mushrooms have been harvested and distributed to organic shops and restaurants, the remaining coproduct is spread on farmland in the vicinity - to once again become barley, beer, brewers’ grains, and shiitake. A complete circle!
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Main picture: Getty Images