One of the problems of being a strict vegetarian is what to eat. Even if you have the time and inclination to prepare meals from actual ingredients, vegetables just don't cut it in many pop meals. Chilli con broccoli? I don't think so. If you prefer your meals straight from the microwave, then the vegetarian convenience food section of your local store is just one long shelf of pasta. And believe it or not, many vegetarians just don't like vegetables that much. Go figure.

That's why Quorn rocks. Derived from an edible fungus, Quorn can be processed to have the same texture as many different meats, including chicken, ham and beef. Add a little flavouring and hey presto, instant meat substitute. It's also available in minced and chunk form, as well as in a bewildering array of burgers, grills, sausages and other pre-prepared meals.

If the reason you became a vegetarian was because you don't like the feel of burnt flesh in your mouth or think eating meat is just plain wrong, then Quorn obviously won't appeal and you're better off with lentils. If, on the other hand, you just object to inhumane farming practices and have nothing against meat-eating per se, then it's a great way of getting some variety and protein into your diet with a minimum of effort.

"You ate hippie toe cheese" 1

I'm allergic to mushrooms. Not in a violent anaphylactic shock way but in a queasy and unsettling way, I also despise the taste, the texture, the smell and even the very appearance of the little fuckers repels me. So when we went to dinner with a friend and my nearest and dearest forgot to tell me we were eating Quorn made of mushrooms until after I’d polished the plate I got slightly upset to say the least. I had my little whine and my brief rant about what he would do if I’d done the same and so on until he took me down the pub, gave a drink and I forgot all about it.

'Till yesterday that is, when the lovely young lady who made us the dinner proudly informed me that Quorn is not made of mushrooms but of another type of unspecified fungus. This got me thinking about what it is actually made of and what this mysterious non-mushroom related substance actually was then got another beer and forgot all about and tried and tell my mousetrap joke to the unsuspecting couple who were talking to us.

In any case this morning here at my wonderfully under worked and woefully underpaid job trying to think of something, anything to do rather than actually work I remembered and did some reading on the matter and came up with a whole lot of good complaining material and some interesting facts.

"The Quorn™ product range is a delicious healthy alternative to meat found in a range of meals and food products." 2

This meat free alternative to soy based dishes is produced, marketed, distributed and sold by Marlow Foods Limited, an independent subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Based in North Yorkshire Quorn has been in British supermarkets for the last 17 years. A huge success, it is stocked by almost all of the biggest food chains in the UK and is a standard ingredient to a lot of vegetarian school and business canteen offerings. Due to its origin and manufacturing technique Quorn has always been a staple of mass vegetarian dishes for its versatility and wide range. It can be produced to replicate not just the taste of chicken, beef or pork but can also be textured as such. So what you get is a product that looks like chicken and tastes like chicken with no meat at all. Which is a lot more than some people would say about the Linda McCartney range and most of the chicken served in Chinatown.

"When is a mushroom not a mushroom?
Arguably, when it is grown in vats and a key ingredient in one of a family of products using a well known meat substitute."
3

Quorn is derived from the edible fungus Fusarium venenatum found in British dirt samples of all places. Quorn is the first so called mycoprotein to be used in general food supplies. Mycoprotein is produced by continued fermentation of a carbohydrate substrate whose ribo-nucleic acid content has been reduced.

In the 1960"s RHM Technology set about researching this process and the ability to use it for commercial food supplies. After experimenting with about 3000 different organisms RHM settled for the Fusarium as the most ideal candidate for mass fermentation and high nutritional values. In 1983 the British Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food gave the go ahead and in conjunction with ICI's fermentation techniques and Sainsbury’s marketing partnership Quorn was launched throughout Britain in 1985. Marlow Foods was set up to take over the development and marketing of Quorn. RHM Technology bowed out of the company in 1990 and sold its shares to ICI who where later to demerge with Zeneca.

"Calling Quorn "mushroom in origin," then, is a bit like saying that beef is chicken in origin, or that ice cream is a kind of grass." 4

Marlow Foods has long been marketing and selling their products in the UK labelling them as 'mushroom in origin' without any fuss and particular uproar, so when they decided to launch their product into the US market I doubt they expected the amount of hassle they have gotten.

Almost immediately after its introduction the executive director of the consumer group Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Michael Jacobson sent a complaint into the FDA, the UK Foods Standards Agency and the EU claiming that the product was mislabelled and that this fungus should not be allowed into the food chain (at least not in the USA – because as we all know the Americans are *so* very particular over what they eat) since it had been know to cause violent allergic reactions in some people and had clearly not been tested thoroughly before its distribution. It is highly indignant that Quorn is labelled as "an unassuming member of the mushroom family, which we ferment as yogurt". The CSPI took issue with this since the fermentation process is completely different for the two. Yogurt is only modified from milk through fermentation and Quorn is an entirely new product that is created through the process. They also appear to have issues with the mycoprotein has they consider that it has not been researched enough to be 'Generally Recognized As Safe' despite it having been distributed for 17 years over here in the UK with no officially reported cases of allergic or even generally adverse reactions to it and no complaints about mis-labelling.

"It [Quorn] is about as closely related to mushrooms as an octopus is related to humans." 5

CSPI to date have made this much noise –

Marlow Foods on the other hand have not released to date any press releases or statements concerning CSPI or it’s issues so we can only assume that it is not planning to alter the labelling until an official body does step in. The FDA, the EU and the Foods Standards Agency have also been silent on the subject and don't seem to be in any rush to stop Quorn from being sold as is.

"This doesn't taste like a fast food, it tastes good." 6

Quorn has been variously described as 'better than other chicken nuggets, without the bitterness that soy sometime leaves' or as indistinguishable from the real thing. To me it tasted like yet another soy derived meat substitute, the very little taste it had on its own was easily over powered by the tomato based sauce and cooked onions that it was accompanied with.

"The new product comes in seven frozen faux dishes that include
nuggets; patties; filets (similar to a chicken cutlet); ground beef; tenders; lasagna; and fettuccine Alfredo."
7

The following products are sold as part of the Quorn range:

  • Quorn burgers
  • Quorn sausages
  • Quorn fillets
  • Quorn ready meals
  • Quorn Deli range of cold cuts
  • Quorn as pieces or mince

Notes

  • Quorn uses rehydrated egg white as binder for the protein. It also appears to be still using battery egg in it's ready meal products.
  • According to an article for Reuters AstraZeneca is putting Quorn up for sale shortly since it wants to concentrate purely on pharmaceuticals. On the non drug realted side apart from Marlow Foods they only have Astra Tech which specialises in medical devices and Salick Health Care which is concerned with the American health insurance market.
  • Marlow Foods Ltd company details as registered with Companies House in the UK
    Name & Registred Office:
    Marlow Food Limited
    Station Road
    Stokesley
    Middlesbrough, Cleveland
    TS9 7AB
    Company No: 01755242
    Date of Incorporation: 12/09/1983
    Country of Origin: United Kingdom
  • Quorn was named after a village in Leicestershire, UK purely for the marketing appeal of the name. This has caused some confusion and not a small tourist and marketing boost for the english town

Footnotes
1 (My other half explains what Quorn is made of)
2 (The Official Quorn website)
3 (The Guardian)
4 (Wired Online)
5 (CSPI website)
6 (A 13 year old American child asked to test Quorn for the Boston Globe)
7 (Marlow Foods vice president David Wilson)

Sources
http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/
http://www.marlowfoods.com/
http://www.cspinet.org/quorn/
http://www.quorndon.com/ (regarding the foods namesake village)
http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,51842-2,00.html
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,714491,00.html
http://www.rhmtech.co.uk/pages/general/quorn.htm
http://uktop100.reuters.com/latest/AstraZeneca/top10/20020602-HEALTH-ASTRAZENECA.ASP.
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/156/food/England_s_veggie_patties_hit_the_U_S_+.shtml (no longer available – the story was published on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 6/5/2002)
http://www.astrazeneca.com/mainnav1/s_products/s_non-pharm/c_non-pharm/
www.nic.com (With a query on QuornComplaints.com)

Introduction

Quorn is a village in Leicestershire, England situated on the old A6 road between Loughborough and Leicester. Its most famous exports are the Quorn Hunt, and Rosemary Conley. Lying close to the River Soar, floods are not uncommon. Its location is N52:44:32 W1:09:59 (WGS84)

The village has a busy center with pubs and restaurants, and it also plays host to Rawlins Community College - the major school for GCSE and A-level students from the surrounding villages, and even some from the correct side of Loughborough.

The Great Central Steam Railway runs through the outskirts of the village, and stops at Quorn station.

Quorndon

The signs on entry to the village read:

Quorn
(Quorndon)

Although its official name was traditionally Quorndon, the village was commonly referred to as Quorn - even to the extent that Quorn Hall never used the longer name.

Problems arose as postal services became more widely used, and mail for the Derbyshire village of Quarndon would become mixed with that for Quorndon. Two solutions were suggested: firstly to add Loughborough to the mailing address, being the nearest large town, but the second - to change the name to Quorn - was submitted to the postmaster general in 1889 by local businesses. The change was approved - and the original name is now only included on the sign as a mark of heritage.

Down Under

The village has a namesake in the outback of South Australia, which bears more than a passing resemblance to its British cousin, even including a steam railway trust - the Pichi Richi Railway.

The capitol of the Flinders Ranges area, the township has early 1900s sandstone architecture, and various products and services available, such as churches, schools, shopping, Internet Café and so on.


Source:
www.quorndon.com
http://www.quorndon-mag.org.uk/archive/summer2002/oz.html
http://buckaringa.com/bbbmarket/
Thanks to StrawberryFrog for making me aware of the Australian version.
Mmmmm, Quorn!

Quorn, the food named after the place, is a product of Marlow Foods Ltd, a division of AstraZeneca. Quorn is made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum.

Quorn is low fat and contains good amounts of protein and fibre. However, be sure to check your dish – some products in the Quorn range are not low fat, due to other fatty ingredients used. The Quorn products of Marlow Foods are not vegan as egg white and milk solids are used. Worse, the eggs come from battery hens.

At first I had misgivings about Quorn. The taste was just too meaty. I didn’t become a vegetarian in order to pretend to eat meat. But now I have gotten used to the taste and Quorn has become a regular part of my diet.

It is true that Marlow Foods was smacked down in 2002 by the British Advertising Standards Authority over labelling Quorn as 'Mushroom in origin’ when in fact it comes from a fungus that does not form mushrooms.

All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. But IMHO it is an overstatment to compare the differences between Fusarium venenatum and mushroom to those between human and octopus as the anti-Quorn site does.

And by the way, yummy, lovely mushrooms are fruiters but not sexual reproducers. Mushroom-producing fungi do exchange genes, but not at that phase of the life cycle.

Technically, the quorn fungus in its natural state lives in soil not on unwashed toes. For food, it is grown in large vats. This process is refered to as fermentation not because the quorn is being fermented, but because the Quorn fungus is the agent of fermentation that creates proteins from the raw nutrients.

There is a fascinating USA FDA report online that includes data such as:

Mycoprotein is the processed cellular mass that is obtained from the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684. F. venenatum strain PTA-2684 derives from a soil sample obtained from Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. Because the predominant component of the cellular mass derived from F. venenatum strain PTA-2684 is protein, and because "myco" is a prefix that means fungus, Marlow calls the processed cellular mass "mycoprotein." The filamentous nature of the cells gives the cellular mass a meat-like texture that makes it suitable for a variety of applications in food, including use as a muscle replacer in meat-alternative products. Mycoprotein also can be used as a fat replacer in certain dairy products and as a cereal replacer in products such as breakfast cereals or puffed snacks.

The protein content of mycoprotein typically ranges from 42 to 50 percent on a dry weight basis. Marlow considers that mycoprotein is a high quality protein because mycoprotein contains all of the essential amino acids.

The fat content of mycoprotein typically ranges from 12 to 14 percent on a dry weight basis. Marlow considers that this fat content is more like vegetable fat than animal fat because it has a low proportion of saturated fatty acids and a high proportion of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The fungus is grown aerobically under steady-state conditions maintained by a continuous feed of nutrients and simultaneous removal of the culture. To prevent mycotoxin synthesis, the production strain is grown at a high rate without any nutritional limitations. To ensure such conditions, the culture is supplied with a nutritionally balanced chemically defined fermentation medium containing easily metabolizable nutrients, including glucose as a sole carbon source. The medium is provided at a rate that allows the cells to grow at a specific growth rate of at least 0.17 per hour. The biomass removed from the fermenter is rapidly heated by injection of steam. The rapid heating process kills the cells. The fermentation broth is subsequently separated from the cellular mass by centrifugation.
    - US FDA Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000091

It may be true, as some reports of "diarrhoea and vomiting" suggest, that Quorn causes a small number of people to be violently ill. So what? Many foodstuffs, for example nuts, shellfish, dairy and wheat cause bad reactions to the small numbers of people who are allergic to them. Should all those products be banned? I think not. If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t eat it.

Some consider Quorn to be fast food as most Quorn products are microwavable frozen dinners.

Some consider it to be "far from the soil" and not a "natural" food as it is grown in vats, processed and artificially flavoured and coloured.

Despite being entirely vegetarian, Quorn is not as low on the food chain as plants such as soy. Like an animal, the Quorn fungus must feed upon glucose produced by a photosynthesising plant. It's probably more energy-efficient at doing this than a cow, but is still a saprophyte not a green plant.

Some consider Quorn to be futuristic, as it fits the 1950's sci-fi ideas of future foods being grown in underground vats. It certainly does fit the trend of late 20th century English food being highly processed industrially made products.

Nevertheless, it is a good source of tasty vegetarian protein. Quorn has been eaten in Britain since 1985, and in 2002 it entered the US market.


Sources:
My feeding habits,
www.quorn.com the official site
http://www.cspinet.org/quorn/ CSPI Quorn complaints, an anti-Quorn site
http://www.quorndon.com the place
http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~rdb/opa-g091.html USA FDA stuff
And other sites that google threw up.

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