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Mushroom company hopes to grow new business in Finger Lakes

Empire Medicinals doing research at Cornell Center of Excellence in Geneva

“An agribusiness success story with roots at Cornell AgriTech and the Finger Lakes region.”
– Mike Nozzolio, former NY State Senator

A Henrietta company specializing in mushrooms and related products is the first business at the Cornell Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture’s new co-working space at Cornell AgriTech.

Empire Medicinals, which specializes in gourmet varieties of mushrooms under the Leep Foods Brand, as well as additive ingredients, has taken lab space at the center, the company said.

Cathy Young, director of the Center of Excellence, said she’s pleased to see the fledgling company come to Geneva.

“The Center of Excellence is pleased to work with Empire Medicinals in its product research and development,” Young said. “The young company has already developed unique, very tasty and healthy food products and was an award winner in the 2020 Grow-NY competition. Working with the world-class food scientists at Cornell AgriTech will help the company take its products to the next level.”

Under its culinary mushroom brand Leep Foods, the company said it grows regenerative organic specialty mushrooms, including Blue Oyster, Lion’s Mane and Shiitake, and distributes them through grocers across the Northeast, including Wegmans and Tops.

Empire Medicinals said it is pursuing commercial-scale production of mushroom mycelium, a fungi that forms the basis for mushrooms. The company said they contain an “abundant source of nutritious compounds to create dynamic new food products, healthy food additives and in-demand dietary food supplements and nutraceuticals.” Nutraceuticals are health products labeled under foods, but they’re also used for for medicinal purposes.

The expanded laboratory space at the Center of Excellence will allow Empire Medicinals to test a variety of processes in the cultivation of the beneficial compounds of mycelia, a product achieving growing attention as a nutritious food additive and its potential therapeutic properties as a food supplement.

Empire Medicinals said both are multibillion-dollar industries.

“The most unique facet of the Empire Medicinals’ research is not solely growing and harvesting mycelia, but its research seeks to improve the cultivation process,” the company said.

Empire Medicinals said it will be partnering with New York’s dairy industry to find ways to improve the mycelium cultivation process. It will use byproducts from milk, yogurt, and other dairy food processing as part of the research.

“As we explored fresh mushroom growing processes to develop our gourmet products, we asked ourselves if we could grow mushroom mycelia using the lactose sugars abundantly present in acid whey, the byproduct of Greek yogurt manufacturing,” said Chris Carter, Empire Medicinals’ executive vice president and board member. “That led us to interesting and expansive research in the cultivation of mycelia submerged in liquid.”

The company said utilizing dairy byproducts also will reduce greenhouse gasses. With the new laboratory at the Center of Excellence, Empire Medicinals said it has access to the space, technology and expertise needed for that research.

Young sees more firms taking advantage of the center’s facilities and expertise.

“It will be companies like Empire Medicinals that help us increase the size and scope of the food and agriculture economy in New York, which is really the heart of our mission at the Center for Excellence,” Young said.

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