The lion's mane mushroom is one of countless miracles in nature. Its thousands of tendrils bloom from rotted wood, creating a pillow made of thousands of tiny icicle structures. The mushroom is a good source of fiber and protein, and consuming it may even help stave off dementia . It's also delicious, forming a crisp, brown crust when baked, crowning my large bowl of homemade ramen with its chewy texture.
But this lion's mane I'm chewing on wasn't grown at a farm. It was grown in my basement on an old card table, with an assist from Mella. Mella is an automated mushroom-growing box, developed by GE Appliance's FirstBuild lab. Think of it as a Keurig for mushrooms—but slower, more expensive, and less practical for all sorts of reasons I'll get into.
Mella goes on sale today for $350 on Indiegogo . And while I can't say I'd recommend it to most people, it's a unique product worth examining because it offers both a peek into GE Appliance's evolving strategy (now owned by the Chinese company Haier), and it demonstrates how engineering problems still need a designer's touch.
Unpacking the idea
Mushrooms are a booming business projected to reach $63 billion by 2027 . From mushroom coffee (which promises energy without jitters) to Johns Hopkins experimenting with psychedelic mushrooms on depression and anxiety and the acclaimed documentary Fantastic Fungi , mushrooms are having a moment.
At the same time, COVID-19 has caused many people to start growing their own food again. Mushrooms grow from rotting wood—they need almost no light or attention. But they do require the right amount of humidity—most experts recommend 70% or greater—which is more moist than the average home, specifically because that moisture invites the growth of unwanted fungi!
Addressing these sorts of trends is the FirstBuild's bread and butter. Where GE is known for building mainstream appliances, FirstBuild is essentially the company's startup arm, tasked to crowdfund new products filled with innovations that could trickle through the rest of GE's line.
The lab's big success story is the Opal Nugget Ice Maker , which launched in 2015. The countertop ice maker was specialized to make the chewable, pellet ice that's beloved by cheap burger chains and high end bars. Who would be interested in spending more than $400 on an ice maker, you might wonder? People who dropped $2.7 million in preorders (a large portion of whom appear to be RV-caravan types , who often have no good way to make ice in a camper).
"We think of ourselves as looking at the niche, the underserved," says André Zdanow, executive director of FirstBuild and Small Appliances at GE Appliances. "Nugget ice was ubiquitous, but it hadn't been productized in a way that was approachable to the masses."
FirstBuild has been toying with new inventions since, one of which is the Mella. "We were all at home last year . . . and one of the things that started taking off last year was this fascination around fungi," says Zdanow. "We saw that going on . . . so we started working on a solution for this trend. That was the idea, we just needed to control some variables—light, humidity, temperature, air flow. If we could do that, we could figure out how good we are at [building a mushroom machine]."
homemade mushroom rigs on Reddit , but that's about it.
You fill the side reservoir with water, which keeps your mushrooms moist for a week at a time. Then you plug a series of wires into the control box on the back of the device. The process takes maybe two minutes—but it feels more like building a desktop PC than plugging in a coffee maker. And when you place its small (desktop PC?) fan onto a water pad to control humidity, you'll ask yourself, am I going to accidentally electrocute myself?
I did not! And the Mella came to life with a whir. A light shined from the top (not a UV light to grow plants, just an LED to guide the mushrooms to grow upwards), and inside, I placed two mushroom growing kits from North Spore (a company that consulted on the Mella's design). I also placed a mushroom kit outside the box, as a control. I wanted to see how well this kit grew without the machine, simply by spritzing it with water twice a day.
The promise of Mella is set-it-and-forget-it mushroom growing. And on this promise, it mostly succeeds. (My unit didn't even let me tweak settings, but the released version will have a dial for both humidity and fresh-air exchange). My lion's mane mushroom grew quickly, showing its fruit in about a week. But the blue oyster mushroom inside the box stalled, and at first I didn't know why.
When I reached out to the Mella team, they speculated that something on the board burned out or came loose. I flipped around a couple of wires in the back, and I sacrificed the light for the fan; and I was back in business with a mostly functional machine.
I had been unimpressed by the Mella's engineer-focused build by this point, but I had to admit, to be able to repair the product so quickly was empowering. If your iPhone stops working, you have to go to a repair shop. If your refrigerator stops working, you have to call an expensive repair service. But with the Mella, its core components are simple and accessible enough that anyone could do the job with proper instructions.
It almost makes sense
For mushroom enthusiasts, the Mella could be pretty exciting. Reddit is filled with people who've hacked Tupperware containers and plastic tents to grow their own mushrooms. The possibility of a simple, more elegant box to do that job makes sense. And it certainly attracted me to growing my own.
The problem now is that FirstBuild and GE simply haven't thought through the problem enough to make a great appliance here. For one, North Spore's kits can run $20 or more for one harvest of mushrooms. It doesn't make any sort of long-term financial sense to buy those kits and grow them in an expensive machine.
But with the right reusable containers and instructions, designed to fit within the Mella, people could grow their own mushrooms out of nothing more than spores and sawdust, making the process close to free. As Zdanow shares, North Spore is thinking about how it can construct complementary products to the Mella in order to do just that.
Overall, I appreciate the direction Mella is going. It's a baby step into the automated production of food (and perhaps, psychedelics!) at home, and it's largely user-repairable. But for the Mella to spur some greater consumer-growing mushroom revolution, GE needs to do more than engineer the perfect mushroom growing appliance; GE needs to design it.
- Echoes of 9/11, as New Yorkers 'try to keep calm but we can't quite carry on'
- Back to reality: Paulina Porizkova, 54, shares a sexy topless photo of herself from her Costa Rican vacation as she returns home to New York and all the 'horrible news' of COVID-19
- Minister of cool
- Experts’ tips on surviving – even enjoying – life under lockdown
- BUSINESS NEWS HEADLINES MARCH 26
- Ford reveals its ventilators will be ready by June while Elon Musk is praised for 'heroic effort' after delivering 1,000 ventilators to California hospital and 50,000 masks to Seattle researchers during coronavirus crisis
- The best Nintendo Switch games (March 2020)
- Ars does Soylent, Day 3: Moderation leads to actual, for-real enjoyment
- Raglan: Come for the surf, stay for the unique food and coffee
- Nine Inch Nails: Love It To Death
- Nine Inch Nails: Love It to Death
- Take a Đà Lạt delicacy tour
- Coronavirus latest: UK rolls out nationwide lockdown
- Where to get takeout in L.A. right now? Our critic has suggestions
- The Passion of Dave Grohl
- Best CBD oil beauty products to keep on your skincare radar for 2020
- Book chats, karaoke, long-distance seders: 10 ways to connect virtually with family and friends
- G20 in virtual huddle as coronavirus death toll tops 21,000
- Rohingya crisis may be driving Aung San Suu Kyi closer to generals
- Olympic Pushback: US Track Joins Swimming, Urges Tokyo Delay
I tried the GE Mella, a Keurig for growing mushrooms at home have 1419 words, post on www.fastcompany.com at October 19, 2021. This is cached page on Law Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.