Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Brave New Fungus

Daughter Number Three's recent post about chicken nuggets sharing ingredients with silly putty got me thinking about processed chicken food. Or, as is more common in our house, chickenless food.

My family is quite fond of Quorn™ products. Dave and Boy#1 are vegetarian so real chicken is out for them. But the meaty texture and reasonable taste promotes Quorn™ products to the plates of the rest of the family as well.

They have a pleasing enough salty processed flavor and are usually doused in condiments or slathered in pesto -- so who's to argue? I have had to pleasure of the being under the table when someone loses control of their nuggets. I have to say, they work for me.

But what exactly IS Quorn™? The Quorn™ website says:

"Mycoprotein is the ingredient common to all Quorn™ products. It’s a meat-free form of high quality protein. Mycoprotein is made by adding oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals to a fungus called Fusarium venenatum."

Uhh...OK...but what is Quorn™?

"Fusarium venenatum, the principal ingredient of Mycoprotien is an ascomycota, one of the largest groups within the fungi family, which also includes truffles and morels. It is one of a genus of filamentous fungi, meaning it is comprised of a web of finely spun strands (hyphae)." Quorn™ is a fungus... that grows in the woods? And is harvested by quaint farmers and their trusty pigs.

Think again. Mycoprotein is grown in vats. It is the stuff of Brave New World.

Quorn™ helpfully explains the whole "product process":

"Mycoprotein is made in 40 metre high fermenters which run continuously for five weeks at a time.The fermenter is sterilised and filled with a water and glucose solution. Then a batch of fusarium venenatum, the fungi at the heart of Mycoprotein, is introduced.

Once the organism has started to grow a continuous feed of nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and phosphate as well as trace elements, are added to the solution. The pH balance, temperature, nutrient concentration and oxygen are all constantly adjusted in order to achieve the optimum growth rate.

The organism and nutrients combine to form Mycoprotein solids and these are removed continuously from the fermenter after an average residence time of five to six hours. Once removed the Mycoprotein is heated to 65°C to breakdown the nucleic acid. Water is then removed in centrifuges, leaving the Mycoprotein looking rather like pastry dough.

The Mycoprotein is then mixed with a little free range egg and seasoning to help bind the mix. It is then steam cooked for about 30 minutes and then chilled, before being chopped into pieces or mince.

The product is then frozen. This is a crucial step in the process because the ice crystals help to push the fibres together, creating bundles that give Mycoprotein its meat-like texture.

The pieces and mince are then sold under the Quorn™ brand and also in wide array of products ranging from escalopes to ready meals, deli slices to sausages."

Need a visual?

Crystal clear?

Some folks say they get sick from Mycoprotein -- that we are being tricked by corporations into eating mold. There is a call for Quorn™ to be banned. People object to food grown in vats. I admit even I can't get excited about of acres of meat protein being grown as in M.T. Anderson's Feed. But lab=bad/homegrown=good is pretty simplistic.

And the whole fear and loathing of "processed foods" is pretty silly when you consider all the things people consume that have been lovingly processed for centuries. How about beer, wine, and cheese? Think about tofu. Or stinky tofu.  People eat lutefisk, chicha, and century eggs. Check out these ten disgusting delicacies. They make fungus seem pretty palatable.

I really do wish that scientists could come up with new, good answers to food sources.  Ones that never ever involve eating dogs (I hear some folks do!) and ruining all the good dog park land. 

I am not going to go all Monsanto on you -- but wouldn't it be great if there were safe, affordable, healthy, tasty meat substitutes that actually tempted folks to back off on the flesh-eater thing? I will always be a carnivore at heart but even I could supplement if it helped the global balance.

So, ever wonder why is Quorn™ called Quorn™? My family has debated this many a time and comes up with nothing worth noting. (Wouldn't you love to come to dinner at our house!) It sounds more like a faux corn product than anything.

Actually, it is the name of a village in England (now called Quorndon) which formed part of the original manufacturer's trade name. What a mundane answer for a strange food. You don't need a diagram for that!


  1. Excellent post, Carmella. Are you sure you didn't go to college? I have so much admiration for the critical thinking skills they're teaching in dog obedience schools these day!

  2. Well, I did pass Level One Obedience with flying colors and I took a Leash Pulling Class (even though I already knew how to pull on the leash).

    But I have a lot of free time when everyone thinks I am napping so I glean things...

  3. There we go--I've always thought it was fine to eat moldy bread.

  4. Not as good as pbj, but I'm with you, Dave!