Mycoprotein sounds like a vacuum packed mouthful that you would find on the Starship Enterprise. It’s alternative name, fungal protein, is not that much more appealing as a menu item. Obviously neither mycoprotein nor fungal protein would exactly fly off the supermarket shelves but a better suited trade name is how you will find this “vegetable” protein.
Quorn™ was born in the 80’s, like many good things. It was a product of the 20 year search for a high protein, cheaper, more sustainable food that would help curb the impending food crisis that was predicted in the 1960’s. Concerned parties were looking for a way to use starch, which was in abundance, to produce a more nutritionally beneficial protein. They were playing with various fermentation techniques and ingredients at the time. To achieve a nutritious and palatable meat substitute it was decided that the final product must resemble meat in protein content, texture and taste. The best vehicle to provide this ended up being not starch but rather a fungus, and in particular a fungus called Fusarium graminearum.
The concern over the food crisis abated toward the end of the last century and instead of providing a mass produced, economical protein Quorn™ was marketed as a health food. It gained popularity in the UK and Europe, particularly among vegetarians, before spreading to the US. It landed on our shores last year.
Fungus to Protein
Mycoprotein is essentially a protein that is produced via the fermentation of a fungus. The initial fungi are put into large vats that contain a water and glucose solution and fed a mixture of nutrients that allows the fungi to grow and produce mycoprotein solids. These solids are separated from the fungus and heat treated before egg and seasoning is added. The product is then steam cooked, shaped and frozen. The freezing step is crucial in providing an end product with a texture that resembles meat. The Quorn™ label is stamped on and the meat analogue is ready for the consumer’s shopping basket.
Health Benefits and Concerns?
Quorn™ is marketed as a healthy meat alternative. The basis for these claims are set on the high protein content, low fat levels and as a source of fiber.
[table caption=”Typical Mycoprotein nutritional information per 100 g (varies between products)” width=”300″ colwidth=”150|150″ colalign=”left|left”]
Energy, 85 kcal
Carbohydrate, 3.0 g
of which sugar, 0.5 g
Protein, 11-14 g
Fat, 3.0-4.0 g
Fiber, 4.0-6.0 g
[/table]Mycoprotein is also a source of a number of vitamins and minerals. CLICK HERE for more on that.
Quorn™ is indeed high in protein and the protein is a complete one with all essential amino acids. This is contrary to most other vegetable derived proteins which do not. Quorn™ is low in fat and carbohydrate and a good source of fiber. Defining what is a “healthy” food these days is fraught with social and scientific danger. Research into this proposed miracle food is not abundant or recent. Outcomes from the limited studies have focused on the effect mycoprotein consumption has on cholesterol and blood sugar levels and satiety (hunger). Results have shown some possible benefit although nothing can be stated with confidence. None of these outcomes are surprising either considering the protein and/or fiber content of the food.
Some concern initially existed over adverse effects and allergy to mycoprotein. As with any high protein food allergy is a possibility and cases of mycoprotein allergy have been reported. Nonetheless it is rare, 1 in 100 000 apparently (quote from producers???).
Available in SA
Quorn™ is available in South Africa and can be found in the frozen food section, likely next to other meat free/soya foods. There are a variety of products including meat-free mince, chicken style fillets, burgers and nuggets, schnitzels and hotdogs. The cost of these products is around R 33 for ± 300 g.
This price element deserves some discussion. For a food that was supposed to be the answer to an impending food crisis one would expect a sustainable and economic product. The reduced impact on the environment is a true marketing point but the end cost is questionable, if not laughable.
[table caption=”Price & Quality Comparison of Protein Foods” width=”450″ colwidth=”150|150|150″ colalign=”left|left”]
Food, Cost per 10 g Protein, PDCAAS
Egg, R 3.55, 1.0
Milk, R 2.81, 1.0
Beef (mince), R 3.40, 0.92
Beef (steak), R 6.00, 0.92
Chicken (fillet), R 4.60, 0.91
Tuna (tinned), R 5.00, 0.90
Soya (Fry’s mince), R 4.80, 0.91
Chickpeas, R 6.75, 0.78
Baked beans, R 5.81, 0.70
Wheat flour, R 1.34, 0.42
Mycoprotein (Quorn), R 7.60, 0.99
MRC Foodfinder III v. 1.1.3
Schaafsma G (2000). The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score. The Journal of Nutrition 130 (7): 1865S–7S.
Is the protein in Mycoprotein of a high quality?. FAQ. Marlow Foods Ltd.
Hoffman J. R., Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 3 (3): 118–30.
Protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) is a tool used for evaluating the quality of a protein. The higher the number (closer to 1) the better the quality of protein. Quorn™ is a very good quality protein (again, according to the manufacturers) but it is expensive. The most expensive protein on my list. Is it worth it? Not from a health perspective so what about taste?
I gave the chicken style fillets a try this week as a meat-free Monday option. Products are cooked from frozen and cooking time is generally 8-10 minutes. This all which makes prep really convenient. The texture of the finished product was somewhat similar to chicken. The taste fell somewhere between mushroom and chicken liver in my opinion and thankfully I had a sauce on hand to make it a little more palatable. While this is a decent, yet expensive, option for vegetarians (not suitable for vegans) I will not be having the chicken fillets again. Neither will I be trying the mince or crumbed products due to their gluten content but please feel free to leave a comment with your experience of these. I do see testing their hotdogs in my future however. We do enjoy a hotdog occasionally but finding a decent and “healthier” option is difficult. I will let you know…
As a parting shot I will add that while I appreciate the goal of finding sustainable nutrient dense foods I am left in doubt as to the placement of an expensive, not so great tasting, “food” that has been manufactured in tanks. Instead I am happy to continue eating natural, good quality, ethically reared animal protein as needed. However many of us could do with eating a little less of them to do our bit for the environmental load or footprint that we are leaving behind. Not to mention the benefits to the wallet and waist line too.