When I tried a Quorn peppered steak fillet for the first time in the summer of 2017 I was impressed by its meat-like texture and taste but also surprised because the main ingredient of the product was trademarked. When I tried Quorn the second time in December 2017, I got food poisoning. That was the last time I even went near their products.
My friend Yasmine has since reported to me several cases of food poisoning in her friends and acquaintances brought on by the consumption of Quorn. After my own “incident” I did some serious digging and gathered enough information, which filled 3 Instagram posts, which I have now edited all into one big blog post for you to read and share with family, friends, colleagues. I will be presenting you the cold hard facts I found. Some will surprise you, others shock you.
Mycoprotein, a fungi, was discovered in the 1970s in Marlow after an industrialist (Lord Rank) wanted to turn discarded starch from a flour business into protein. Once in mass production, the great selling point was Mycoprotein being the only non animal protein source (apart from the infamous soya bean) with a full essential amino acid profile. (8 amino acids + histidine, which is essential only in children) At the time, it was a perfect way to cater for vegetarians and anyone wanting a break from meat.
Mycoprotein is fermented like beer or yoghurt; it is therefore produced and not naturally grown like mushrooms. It gained popularity back in the day as it seemed perfectly healthy due to its high protein and fibre content; it also has no cholesterol and is low in fat. It is still important to remember that it is far from natural since it originated from a Petri dish and was grown on waste. To make matters worse mycoprotein needs to be purified because ammonia is used in its production. You can’t make this up!
Now, if you’ve ever wondered why Quorn products taste exactly like meat, it’s because mycoprotein has a meat-like texture as the harvested strands have a similar structure to animal muscle cells. That is definitely an interesting piece of science, however the thought of chewing through something muscle-like might leave one feeling a bit nauseated if they don’t like the texture or even the thought of meat.
What is mycoprotein?
“Mycoprotein is an ascomycota (my note: I have read up on this and still can’t explain to you exactly what type of a fungi this is), one of the largest groups within the fungi family, which also includes truffles and morels.” – this sentence is highly misleading since mycoprotein is actually a fungi/mould not fungi/mushroom. Easy way to remember this: all mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms. So stating that it’s in the mushroom family is like saying beef is from the same origin as chicken.
Since 2002 over 2500 cases of allergic reactions have been recorded: nausea, vomiting, sweating, diarrhoea, stomach cramps. 1% of ‘victims’ had anaphylactic reactions. Quorn say their products “only” upset 1 in 100000-200000 people, which would mean 15000-30000 people with the 3 billion dishes they proudly announce to have served so far! That’s definitely not an “only”.
I also found a single case of death: in 2013 an 11 year old boy with a severe mould allergy died after eating a Quorn Turk’y Burger. His mother knew he was allergic to mould yet was unaware that the Quorn product was a type of mould since at the time the products were wrongly labelled. However, no payout came from this and Quorn was adamant that their products are as safe as can be. Mycologists and dietitians had long been trying to get them to stop referring to this product as a mushroom.
In September 2017 Quorn finally added allergy advice on their products and specified Mycoprotein is a fungi/mould since it has been declared an allergen in 16 countries where these products are being sold. If that’s not a huge red flag, I don’t know what is.
So, what are you actually consuming?
Unfortunately, you won’t find the nutritional values of mycoprotein itself on the actual packaging nor on Quorn’s website. Interestingly enough, mycoprotein has its own page (which I stumbled on by accident), http://www.mycoprotein.com. I don’t know about you but when I buy beef patties, I don’t expect the main ingredient to have a website or buy crisps and then go to potato.com to find out what my food has been made of.
In an attempt to show transparency Quorn have provided proofs of studies and all of its health benefits of mycoprotein on its website. Now, I am a sucker for studies but only the credible ones. Ironically, two of their “studies” available to read on cholesterol had only been conducted on 22 and 21 people respectively – something that you will only find out if you read the actual documents of these “studies”. The only published “study” on mycoprotein and its satiety had 13 participants. These results are unreliable and have a very large margin of error (+-31%). To clarify, I keep using quotation marks since for a study to be reliable and to apply to the general public, it is necessary to have at least 500-1000 participants for a 0.045-0.032% margin of error. Anything under a 100 participants (which nowadays seems to be the standard amount of participants for most of small fitness and short term food studies – yes, it’s shocking!) is more of an experiment. (Hey, I didn’t do my 7 day diet last summer and call it a study!)
Mycoprotein was patented in 1985 yet all patents on it in the EU expired by 2010 so now everybody has the right to recreate the product using these methods, just not under the Quorn brand name so unless you research your “not meat” products, you might not even know what you’re dealing with.
At the end of the day you’ll have to make up your own mind about Quorn. Seemingly healthy but at what cost? Definitely not for those with fungi/mould allergies. For everyone else – everything in moderation I guess? My advice is to always look into anything that doesn’t make sense or seems suspicious. If you’re then not shocked or put off by your findings, it is your decision whether you would like to carry on eating that product. If you’re trying to find out more, I would look into the fusarium venenatum/graminearum situation as the latter is said to be toxic.
One more thing – this reminds me of the zero calorie noodles, do you remember when these came out? Covered in calcium hydroxide and “simply needing to be soaked before eating”. This product first made an appearance in 2013/14 I believe and were mainly sold in Holland & Barret, yet now there are more and more brands coming up with zero calorie/carb noodles. Well, did you know that calcium hydroxide is an ingredient in whitewash, mortar and plaster? That it is used in road construction, cleaning pipes, manufacturing mixes for pesticides etc? Yes, go and Google that right now or click here to discover one of the articles I read.
And last but not least – after I had done all this digging on Quorn, Yasmine asked me to also look into textured vegetable protein, which is the main ingredient in Stella McCartney’s vegetarian products. I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had already done very through research on the ingredients and their manufacturing methods. The findings, however, were probably as disturbing (if not more) than my mini research on Quorn and mycoprotein. Needless to say, I will be keeping well clear of these products in the future but you make up your own minds.
What’s your take on all this? Leave a comment! For any of the articles I read and websites visited, please leave a comment to get in touch and I can provide you with links to them. Interestingly, some of this information was very hard to find.