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Quorn is the leading brand of mycoprotein food product in the UK. A mycoprotein is any protein-rich foodstuff made from processed edible fungus.

Quorn is produced as both a cooking ingredient and a range of ready meal. It is sold (largely in Europe but also in other parts of the world) as a healthy food and an alternative to meat, especially for vegetarians, earning the Vegetarian Society's seal of approval. As it uses egg white as a binder, it is not a vegan food.

When introduced into the United States in 2002 there were concerns about possible health risks.

History

During the 1950s, it was predicted that by the 1980s there would be a shortage of protein-rich foods. In response to this, many research programmes were undertaken to use single-cell biomass as an animal feed. Contrary to the trend, J. Arthur Rank instructed the Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) Research Centre to investigate converting starch (the waste product of cereal manufacturing undertaken by RHM) into a protein-rich food for human consumption.

The filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum, more precisely a mould, was discovered in 1967. After an extensive screening process, it was isolated as the best candidate. In 1980, RHM was given permission to sell mycoprotein for human consumption after a ten-year evaluation program.

The initial retail product was produced in 1985 by Marlow Foods – named after RHM's headquarters in Marlow, Buckinghamshiremarker – a joint venture between RHM and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) who provided a fermenter left vacant from their abandoned single-cell feed programme. The product was named after the Leicestershire village of Quornmarker, reputedly for purely marketing purposes. The two partners invested patents for growing and processing the fungus and other intellectual properties in the brand. Although the food sold well in the initial test market of the RHM staff canteen, the large supermarket chains were unconvinced until Lord Sainsbury, finance director of the UK's Sainsbury'smarker supermarket chain – then 18%-owned by his family – agreed to stock the new brand.

Quorn entered widespread distribution in the UK in 1994, and was introduced to other parts of Europe in the 1990s, and to the United statesmarker in 2002. The initial advertising campaign for Quorn featured sports personalities including footballer Ryan Giggs, rugby player Will Carling, and runner Sally Gunnell.

Although the mycoprotein was originally conceived as a protein-rich food supplement for the predicted global famine, the food shortage has not yet occurred. In 1989, a survey revealed that almost half of the UK population was reducing their intake of red meats and a fifth of young people were vegetarians. As a result, Marlow Foods decided to sell Quorn as a healthy meat alternative free from animal fats and cholesterol.

When ICI spun off its biological products divisions from the core chemical business in 1993, Marlow became part of the Astra Zeneca group, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. In 2003, Zeneca sold Marlow, the Quorn business, and associated trademarks and patents, to a private equity firm for £70 million. Two years later food giant Premier Foods bought Marlow for £172 million.

Marlow sells Quorn brand mycoprotein in ready-to-cook forms – as cubes and a form resembling minced meat – and later introduced a range of chilled vegetarian meal, including pizzas, lasagna, cottage pie, and products resembling sliced meat, hot dogs, and burgers. it is available in stores in the UK, the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Swedenmarker, the US, Switzerlandmarker and Republic of Irelandmarker. It is also available in Delhaize supermarkets in Germanymarker. In the UK, it enjoys around 60% of the meat-replacement food market, with annual sales of around £95 million. Until December 2003, Quorn had been available in Francemarker.

In 2004, McDonald's introduced a Quorn-branded burger bearing the seal of approval of the Vegetarian Society, an endorsement criticised by the Vegan Society. However, the product proved to be less popular than the company had envisaged and was soon removed from the menu.

Production

Quorn fillets - fried, defrosted and frozen.
Quorn is made from the soil mould Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684 (previously misidentified as the parasitic mold Fusarium graminearum). The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, otherwise sterile fermentation tanks. During the growth phase, glucose is added as a food for the fungus, as are various vitamins and minerals (to improve the food value of the resulting product). The resulting mycoprotein is then extracted and heat-treated to remove excess levels of RNA. Previous attempts to produce such fermented protein foodstuffs were thwarted by excessive levels of DNA or RNA; without the heat treatment, purine, found in nucleic acids, is metabolised by humans, producing uric acid, which can lead to gout.

The product is dried and mixed with chicken egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then textured, giving it some of the grained character of meat, and pressed either into a mince (resembling ground beef), forms resembling chicken breasts, meatballs, turkey roasts, or into chunks (resembling diced chicken breast). In these forms, Quorn has a varying colour and a mild flavour resembling the imitated meat product, and is suitable for use as a replacement for meat in many dishes, such as stews and casseroles. The final Quorn product is high in protein and dietary fibre and is low in saturated fat and salt. It contains less dietary iron than do most meats.

The different tastes and forms of Quorn are results of industrial processing of the raw fungus.

Quorn for the European market is produced at Marlow's headquarters in Stokesleymarker, North Yorkshire and at nearby Billinghammarker in Stockton-on-Teesmarker.

Controversy

Quorn's 2002 debut in the United States was more problematic than its European introduction had been – the sale of Quorn was contested by The American Mushroom Institute, Gardenburger, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). They filed complaints with advertising and trading-standards watchdogs in Europe and the US, claiming that the labelling of Quorn as "mushroom based" was deceptive. The CSPI, observed that while a mushroom is a fungus, fusarium is not a mushroom, and quipped, "Quorn's fungus is as closely related to mushrooms as humans are to jellyfish."

CSPI also expressed concern that some proteins present in Quorn could produce unexpected allergic reactions in some consumers, and continues to lobby for its removal from stores on this basis. But as others counter, milk, peanuts, soy, eggs, and many other foods are common allergens, sometimes fatally so, and removing Quorn from stores would set an unreasonable precedent. Calling the product "fungus food", CSPI claimed in 2003 that it "sickens 4.5% of eaters". The manufacturer disputes the figure, claiming that only 0.0007% (1 in 146,000) suffer adverse reactions. The CSPI's claims were also described by Leslie Bonci, professor of nutrition at the University of Pittsburghmarker, as "overblown", and the organization has been accused of using the most extreme and overblown quotes concerning Quorn for shock value. Conservative commentator Steven Milloy, writing for the American Fox News channel, said "CSPI appears to have an unsavory relationship with Quorn competitor, Gardenburger" and called the CSPI's complaints "unscrupulous shrieking". Gardenburger in turn refuted this, saying Milloy's "unsavory relationship" claim was "untrue and groundless".

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority also had concerns over Marlow's practice of marketing Quorn as "mushroom in origin", saying it had been "misleading consumers". The ASA noted "despite the advertiser’s explanation that they used the term because customers were unfamiliar with the main ingredient, mycoprotein, the ASA considered that the claim implied that Quorn was made from mushroom. Marlow Foods were asked either to delete the claim or give in the same font size, a statement of the mycoprotein origin of the product, or the fungal origin of the product."

Quorn's acceptance in the vegetarian market was hampered by the use of battery eggs in its production process, a practice opposed on ethical grounds by many. For this reason, the Vegetarian Society initially did not approve these products. Working with the Vegetarian Society, Marlow began phasing out battery eggs in 2000, and by 2004 all Quorn products sold in the UK were produced without battery eggs, earning the Vegetarian Society's seal of approval.

See also



Notes

  1. Quorn is the leading brand in the UK's £582 million vegetarian market, according to The Grocer, with sales of £75 million., Management Today magazine, 03-01-2004
  2. Sainsbury's chief braced for major change, Jorn Madslien for BBC News, 10-10-2007.Accessed:11-14-2008.
  3. Mycoprotein and Quorn product manufacture, Marlow Foods, USA.Accessed: 05-20-2006.
  4. Re: GRAS Notice No. GRN 000091; Food Additive Petition FAP 6A3930, Michael F. Jacobson and Doug Gurian-Sherman, CSPI, 02-28-2002.Accessed 11-15-2008.
  5. For example, their citing of a comment from the CSPI Quorn complaint website that the consumer "was twice incontinent of feces in public!!"


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