Mycoprotein is a meat replacement product that’s available in a variety of forms such as cutlets, burgers, patties, and strips. It’s marketed under the brand name Quorn, and is sold in 17 countries including the United States.
It was approved for use in 1983 as a commercial food ingredient by the U.K. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admitted it into a class of foods “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).”
However, a number of studies indicate that the primary ingredient used to make mycoprotein is a potential allergen, and may cause dangerous reactions if consumed.
Keep reading to learn more about this alternative meat source, including how it’s made, whether or not it’s safe to eat, and other meat substitutes worth considering.
Mycoprotein is a protein made from Fusarium venenatum, a naturally occurring fungus.
To create mycoprotein, manufacturers ferment fungi spores along with glucose and other nutrients. The fermentation process is similar to what’s used to create beer. It results in a doughy mixture with a meat-like texture that’s high in protein and fiber.
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Both vegetarian and vegan mycoprotein products are available.
Some mycoprotein products contain a small amount of egg or milk protein (added to enhance the texture), so aren’t vegan. However, other products are completely vegan and don’t contain eggs or milk.
If you’re looking for a vegan product, check the label before purchasing.
There’s conflicting research regarding the safety of mycoprotein. We’ve referenced some of these studies below so you can make an informed decision whether mycoprotein is right for you.
On one side of the question of the safety of mycoprotein is the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). They cite a number of studies from 1977 to 2018 indicating that the fungal ingredient used to make mycoprotein is an allergen.
In a 2018 CSPI study of reactions associated with mycoprotein, 1,752 self-reports were collected by a web-based questionnaire. This study points out dangerous reactions to mycoprotein including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. They also report that two deaths have been linked to Quorn.
An additional concern is cited in a
However, that same study also indicated that the incidence of allergic reactions to mycoprotein remains exceptionally low, especially considering an estimated 5 billion servings have been consumed since it first appeared on the market.
On the other side of the safety issue is the FDA and the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency. They both believe that mycoprotein products are safe enough to be sold to the public.
The U.K. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food approved its use as a commercial food ingredient in 1983. The FDA admitted it into a class of foods “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” in 2001.
If you’re looking for a meat alternative with fewer associated risks than mycoprotein, there are plenty of options to consider.
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While traditional meat substitutes such as tofu and seitan originated in Asia over 2000 years ago, technological advancements, such as protein isolation, have made it possible to develop meat alternatives that more closely resemble meat.
Here are some meat substitutes worth considering.
Soy and tempeh
Some traditional meat substitutes include:
- seitan, which contains gluten
- tofu, which contains soy
- tempeh, which contains soy
- texturized vegetable protein (TVP), which contains soy
Protein isolation substitutes
Some of the more recent meat substitutes use a protein isolation technique that they claim tastes, bleeds, and sears like real meat. These products include:
- Impossible burger, which may contain wheat, soy, and coconut oil
- Beyond burger, which may contain wheat, soy, and coconut oil
Clean meat substitutes
Scientists are also working to develop “clean meat,” also referred to as lab-grown meat. “Clean meat” will not be made from plants, but grown from stem cells as opposed to harvesting meat from slaughtered animals.
Read the label
When purchasing meat alternatives, read the label carefully. Keep an eye out for ingredients that aren’t compatible with your dietary choices, such as:
- soy, gluten, dairy, corn, eggs
- sodium content, as processed foods are often high in sodium
- organic and non-GMO certification
Meat alternatives such as mycoprotein and others are important because meat production has been associated with environmental pollution and unsustainable use of resources, including:
- land and water consumption
- effluent waste
- fossil fuel use
- animal methane
According to Ecosystems from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations:
- 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from raising livestock.
- One-third of the world’s ice-free land is used to produce livestock, including growing feed.
- It’s projected that there will be a 73 percent increase in global meat demand by 2050.
- 15,400 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef.
Switching to alternative meat sources can reduce our carbon footprint and reclaim needed resources, such as water.
Mycoprotein is a protein made from fungus. Sold under the trademarked name Quorn, it’s available in various formats as a meat or chicken substitute.
While some groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggest that mycoprotein is potentially dangerous, other organizations such as the FDA and the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency have determined that it’s safe enough to be sold to the public.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other meat alternative with fewer associated risks than mycoprotein to choose from. These include soy- or tempeh-based meat substitutes, and protein isolation products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger.
Companies producing meat substitutes hope to answer the growing global need for protein, while lowering the carbon and water footprint needed to raise livestock.