"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
- 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
- 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
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)
http://www.quorndon.com/ (regarding the foods namesake village)
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)
www.nic.com (With a query on QuornComplaints.com)