Mycoprotein is a plant based meat alternative sold under the brand name Quorn. Why did we write a guide on this? It’s a very unique meat alternative with a lot of science behind the way it was created, discovered, and is still produced. From the beginnings, to its uses today, we will go over all of the ins and outs of mycoprotein and why it’s a solid meat alternative you should be aware of.
History of Mycoprotein
Back in the 1960s scientists from an English company Rank Hovis McDougall set out on a 3 year study in hopes of finding a fungus that would produce a cheap, nutritious, and sustainable protein alternative. While they initially started out with a more microbial focus, they found that filamentous fungus to be a promising prospect. After screening 3000 different species of fungi, they found that the sinewy fibrous fungus Fusarium venetum to be the perfect texture, while also being quite palatable. You can see in the image below that on a microscopic level, the fibers of the fungus very much resemble the fibers of animal proteins that we’ve been eating for centuries.
Before the meat alternative could come to the market, it went through 12 years of health and safety investigations. The main concern was that the fungi may become a plant pathogen. A plant pathogen is basically any type of fungi, bacteria, parasites, etc that can cause disease in plants. Plant pathogens can cause huge problems when introduced to fragile ecosystems, and can be incredibly difficult to eradicate once they start spreading. After determining the mycoprotein was no cause for concern, it was time to scale up production. By the 80s mycoprotein was one of the most well studied foods on the market in Europe.
How Quorn Is Made
In order to mass produce the fungus, a fermentation vat (similar to what you’d see in a brewery) is filled with a growth medium along with F. venenatum spores to create a giant fungal culture. The culture is fed glucose syrup, oxygen, nitrogen, as well as other vitamins and mineral to ensure optimal growth and nutritional makeup. The fermentation vat is kept at a constant temperature while the fungus doubles in size about every five hours.
The mycoprotein solids are then removed from the fermenter, heated, and centrifuged to remove any remaining liquid. At this point, specific spices or flavorings can be added depending on what the final product will be. Several ingredients such as egg albumen are added to the fungal dough, and it is then steam cooked, chilled, and chopped into meaty little pieces. The final product is then frozen, which is what allows the mycoprotein to have a chewy fibrous texture that makes it such a great meat alternative.
Due to the nature of mycoprotein production, it is estimated that the carbon footprint of minced mycoprotein is 10 times less than that of beef, and the water consumption is 20 times less.
Nutrition & Controversy
Mycoprotein is a rockstar when it comes to nutritional value. When grown at optimal conditions, the biomass of mycoprotein can be 42% protein, while also functioning as a probiotic material for your gut. Mycoprotein contains all nine essential amino acids, meaning is is a “complete” protein source. While being high in fiber, and protein, it is also 100% cholesterol free.
One controversial thing to note about Quorn and mycoprotein is the protential for allergic reaction. According to Quorn’s website, research estimates that 1 in 100,000-200,000 people may have an adverse allergic reaction to Quorn. For reference, about 1 in 200 people are alliterative to soy, and 1 in 13 children are allergic to peanuts. It is unclear where they got those numbers, but accounts of allergic reactions range from a slightly upset stomach, to severe vomiting and even anaphylactic shock.
After further research it seems like these allergic reactions could be caused by one of two things
- An actual allergy to the fungus Fusarium venetum in people who are mold-sensitive.
- The extremely high fiber content in Quorn causing gastrointestinal distress.
Some studies suggest that mycoprotein may cause allergic reactions in mold sensitive people. This is because of an occurrence called cross reactivity. This is where the proteins in one substance share the same allergenic characteristics of proteins in another substance. In this case, the protein in mycoprotein is pretty similar to a lot of common mold spores. When we think of fungi, we usually think of mushrooms, but the fungus that makes up Quorn products in a lot of ways is more similar to mold than any traditional mushroom. For this reason, people who may have a mold sensitivity should refrain from eating any Quorn products.
Quorn hired a panel of independent experts to review the consumer reports detailing adverse reactions to consuming mycoprotein. The panel concluded that many of the adverse incidents described more probably relate to the high fiber content in mycoprotein products and are not true allergic reactions. The panel theorized that the fiber in mycoprotein could speed up the normal digestion process and cause rapid fermentation leading to symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
Quorn has been at the forefront of meat alternative market for decades, and is a truly under appreciated brand in the United States. The effort and innovation they’ve put in to creating a sustainable meat alternative is truly commendable. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out some of their imitation meat products. Here is a review we did of Quorn’s Meatless Roast, which has been a holiday staple for us.
Mycoprotein is an incredible food, and only makes me wonder what other sustainable cruelty free meat alternatives could be out there just waiting to be discovered.