May 21, 2002 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
Quorn, a Laboratory Mold Creation, Invades the U.S.
Is it a mushroom, a fungus, or just plain mold? Is it a food or yet another laboratory creation disguised as food?
After gracing dinner tables in Europe for the last 17 years, Quorn has reached the United States and is now available in frozen food sections at markets across the country.
What is Quorn? According to the manufacturer, Marlow Foods of the United Kingdom, "Quorn foods are made with mycoprotein, from the fungi family - and a relative of mushrooms, truffles, and morel, that offers a strong nutritional profile and an authentic meat-like texture." Marlow Foods is a division of AstraZeneca, a giant pharmaceutical company.
That description differs radically from the view of Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in the May 2002 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.
"It's actually a fungus that's grown in huge fermentation vats. Mycoprotein is as close to mushrooms as human beings are to jellyfish," says Jacobson. He continues by asking, "Do we want to eat foods made of traditional farm-grown ingredients or mold grown in vats?"
CSPI wants the Food and Drug Administration to take action on the deceptive labeling, to remove the product from the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list, and not allow mycoprotein as a food additive until more testing is conducted. CSPI also filed complaints with the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency and the European Commission.
This is quite a reversal of position by the CSPI that had given its "Best Bite" ratings to two Quorn products in their "Meatless Marvels" article in the March issue. "The new product is made from fungus, but a darn good tasting one," the article stated.
On its Developing Foods web pages, Marlow Foods makes powerful claims for their mycoprotein product. They say it " has almost as much protein as an egg, more fiber than a baked potato, two-thirds the fat of skinless chicken breast and no cholesterol."
In his statement on Marketing Mycroprotein, David Wilson, General Manager of Quorn, points out that consumer research reveals that health is the chief reason consumers will purchase meat alternative items. "They also want to be convinced that the product is going to taste great, which is why the marketing emphasis is on in-store and event demonstrations."
His statement made to the Washington Post seems to be similar to one by Burger King when the BK Veggie Burger debuted. Burger King's company spokesperson stated their product was not positioned as a vegetarian product. It was designed as a meatless alternative.
"We are not making these strictly as health products," Wilson said. "We know that consumers want great tasting foods. What we can offer for the first time is a line of meat alternatives that are suitable for mainstream America. We are not targeting vegetarians or health fanatics. We're targeting people who want to make a step in the right direction but are not necessarily looking for strictly low-fat products."
Potential buyers of this mycoprotein or mold may be surprised by the nutritional data on food labels. The Fettucine Alfredo with Chicken-Style Tenders & Broccoli is only 360 calories with 4 grams of dietary fiber and 17 grams of protein but contains 16 grams of fat, 9 saturated, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whopping 920 milligrams of sodium (38% of the daily allowance).
Reading the ingredient list, they would find heavy whipping cream, Romano cheese, butter, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese, half and half, sugar, rehydrated egg white, natural flavors from non-meat sources, and gum arabic among the items listed. A full listing of ingredients in Quorn products appears at the end of this article.
Although gum arabic (from the acacia tree) is on the Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list, some people may develop allergic reactions such as asthmatic attacks or skin rashes.
Jacobson emphasized allergic reactions to the mycoprotein in his complaint filed with the Food and Drug Administration. He questioned whether the 90 reports of adverse reactions to the Quorn products listed by Marlow Foods is a true indication of all of the reactions faced by consumers. Many people may not have reported ill effects to the company.
Those who eat Quorn products can list the products' adverse effects at <http://www.cspinet.org/quorn/form.html, a site established by CSPI for that purpose.
Joining CSPI in protesting Quorn products to the FDA is Gardenburger Authentic Foods. Gardenburger questions the labeling of Quorn as "mushroom based" or "mushroom in origin." The actual ingredient, a Fusarium venenatum fungus, is commonly referred to as "mould."
"Gardenburger is concerned that consumers don't know the truth. After extensive consumer research and discussion with scientific experts, we feel that this labeling is misleading, and could potentially damage those who legitimately use mushrooms in their products, " said Scott Wallace, Gardenburger CEO.
"It's lower in fat [than most meat and poultry]," says Sanford Miller, a past director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the FDA, in an article in the Washington Post. "The soybean people aren't going to like me, but this Quorn is even better. There's not so much of the spongy feel that makes many people avoid soy and tofu dishes. From a health point of view, it is quite valuable."
Miller is a member of the GRAS committee that was paid by Marlow Foods to review Quorn for the FDA.
Because all Quorn products contain egg whites and some contain dairy, none of them are vegan.
Chicken-Style Recipe Tenders
Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken-Style Tenders & Broccoli
Garlic & Herb Chicken-Style Cutlets