Both Preeti Rathore and her husband Manveer had been in the culinary business for around three years — she as the baker of customised and themed cakes, and he as the owner of a restaurant. But the birth of their son in 2010 was a turning point for the Jaipur-based couple, for more reasons than one.
Diagnosed with gluten intolerance at a very young age, Preeti’s son would often crave the delicious cakes he’d smell baking in the oven at home. Her heart would break, she says, as he couldn’t eat any of it. She decided to stop making cakes at home, and thus quit the business entirely.
Preeti then joined her husband in a bid to support him in running the restaurant, and says that’s when the idea of branching out to the cultivation of oyster mushrooms struck her. “This seemed a good idea, as in the process, I would be reaching out to others who were looking for healthy alternatives and couldn’t eat gluten based foods,” she says.
“Ever since my son was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I had been on the lookout for healthy food options,” says Preeti. “When I got to know about oyster mushrooms, I researched more and then, following a training course from Solan in Himachal Pradesh, found that there were three methods of cultivation that were not only safe for the environment but also toxin-free. We began the cultivation of these oyster mushrooms in Jaipur with the use of bio enzymes.”
And thus, Amritatva began in 2019 as an enterprise that focused on oyster mushrooms. The brand is engaged in the cultivation, processing and sale of products made of the fungi.
Preeti recounts how she often gets asked “Why oyster mushrooms?”
Her answer targets three important solutions to the problems in India’s nutrition space. “Oyster mushrooms involve vertical farming, which is much more sustainable compared to traditional horizontal farming methods. Second, the mushrooms are cheap and can be afforded by all target groups. The third is that they are abundant in nutrition.”
Oyster mushrooms, which are one of the most widely consumed fungi in the world, go by the name due to their appearance — an oyster shaped cap and a short stem. Simple to grow and cultivate, these are preferred due to their speedy rate of growth, and tolerance to a wide variety of conditions.
However, their versatility isn’t their only advantage. A healthy option for those who are looking for energy and nutrition‐rich alternatives, these mushrooms come packed with a bounty of flavour and are rich in protein, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, Vitamin B, and essential amino acids. They also have negligible amounts of cholesterol and fat.
A superfood in the making!
Once the couple had explored the benefits of these fresh fungi, they delved further and hit upon a solution for prolonging the shelf life — dried forms of the mushroom.
“In 2018, when I had my training, I realised that people weren’t very interested in the fresh form of the mushrooms. Moreover, something that was constantly at the back of my mind was the will to cater to people who are gluten intolerant. In traditional markets, there were very few options available for these people. Hence, we came up with the idea of dried oyster mushrooms that would add value to food, be a great option for these people, and also have a longer shelf life.”
This solution would not only enable Amritatva to sell products for a longer time, but would also be a great option from the consumer standpoint, as well as widen the expanse of products they could now begin manufacturing. Their ambit now includes healthy drinks with the dried form of the fungi added in, sprinklings, garnishings, and even powders that could simply be added to any food product to enhance the nutritional quotient. The products range from Rs 250 for a 200 g all-purpose seasoning, to Rs 300 for a 100 g packet of dried oyster mushrooms.
The couple also banks on the fact that seasonings are something that almost every dinner table has. There is an arm of the business wherein women from Sirsi and other villages near Jaipur make the seasonings, carry out the drying process, make the powder, and more. By having three to four women as part of this process, Preeti says it contributes to their empowerment by giving them a source of income and a job.
In addition, plans for scaling the business are on. As many as 60 per cent of people in India are lactose intolerant, and the founders of Amritatva have now gone on to manufacturing products that are vegan along with gluten free, thus widening the scope of options that people have for safe yet nutritious foods.
From selling in traditional markets to now having their products displayed online, Amritatva has come a long way. “We have received funding from CIIE IIM Ahmedabad, wherein 2% equity was dissolved and we received Rs 8 lakh for the business. Our plans for funding are now to reach out to dieticians and nutritionists, as this is something we believe will impact people on a wider scale,” says Preeti.
“When we started out, there wasn’t much awareness about this superfood. However, we had a zeal in us. We thought, ‘If one packet can sell, a bigger number can too’.”
The enterprise started with the duo’s commitment to find healthy food alternatives for their gluten intolerant son. They say that Amritatva is now a full scale venture that has received a total of 350 orders and offers farmers employment, and a means to earn extra income by training them in the procurement and processing of oyster mushrooms.