Smart Shorts III: Can eating Quorn help you save the planet?

Have you ever sat down for dinner, started tucking into a Quorn lasagne, escalope or the best of the best (in my opinion) the Quorn nugget, and wondered to yourself… What is this?

Well, I have! So to answer my own question (and hopefully satisfy your curiosity too), this blog post will cover what Quorn is, whether it is as good for you as Mo Farah would have you believe, and whether it is good for the planet. Feel free to finish that plate of nuggets whilst reading the post…

What is Quorn?

Quorn is a product sold in the UK, USA and Europe, which has been around since 1985 (Wiebe, 2004). It is made of the sort-of root structure (“mycelium”) of the fungus Fusarium venenatum, but don’t let the word fungus make you think of mushrooms – others have instead described it as a mould, since it is more similar in appearance to mould than to your average portobello (BeHealthyNow.co.uk, 2019). Prior to its release for sale to the general public, extensive research and testing for over 15 years was conducted (Wiebe, 2004), which revealed not only its safety for human consumption, but also its nutritional benefits – for example, it has an amino acid* content comparable to eggs or cottage cheese (Sadler, 1988), almost no cholesterol* and a high fibre content (Wiebe, 2004). It is also comparable to some meats in terms of iron content (Sadler, 1988), meat or tofu in texture, taste and aroma (though this is subjective…), and could even be used to reduce the fat content of cereals, yogurt and ice cream (Wiebe, 2004).

File:Quorn Logo 2015.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Quorn is a very attractive option for many consumers, whether they be vegetarians missing the texture of meat, busy families looking for new and exciting dinner options, or people who just enjoy the products more than the meatier versions – 30% of the UK population reported buying meat-substitutes such as Quorn on a regular basis (Apostolidis & McLeay, 2016), and the company is expected to be a billion-dollar business by 2027 (Blythman, 2018).

However, the company has still faced criticisms. Reports have been made from over 2000 people that Quorn has caused adverse effects, such as nausea, allergic reactions, vomiting, hives and difficulty breathing (Blythman, 2018). In the grand scheme of things however, reactions remain extremely rare and the safety of the products have been extensively tested – Quorn CEO even claimed that the products are “as benign as a potato” (Blythman, 2018). Some consumers remain wary however – the highly processed nature of Quorn products is off-putting to many, who prefer to know exactly what they are eating. But is it worth it if it’s a sustainable protein source with a low environmental impact?

Good for the planet?

Producers of Quorn grow the fungus through a process known as fermentation, which is the same technique used to make beer and bread. This means that the final product does not contain the antibiotics or hormones associated with meat production, and has a much smaller environmental footprint. For example, it was found through full life cycle analyses* that Quorn products have a carbon footprint 10x lower than beef and 4x lower than chicken; use 10x less water than beef and 3x less than chicken, and use the lowest amount of water compared to all other meat and vegetables (including tofu, cereals, pulses and vegetables) in the study, per gram of protein produced (Finnigan, Needham & Abbott, 2017). Clearly, meat-alternatives such as Quorn benefit the environment when they are used as substitutes for meat, whose production is associated with widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss (Apostolidis & McLeay, 2016). And since most meat-eaters cite their love for the taste of meat as the main reason preventing them from reducing their intake (Apostolidis & McLeay, 2016), meat-like Quorn products are a useful tool in curbing meat consumption.

The need for new, more environmentally sustainable protein sources is essential if we are to feed a population which will be 30% larger than today by 2050 (Finnigan, Needham & Abbott, 2017). Quorn products have even been shown to be more efficient at providing dietary protein than vegetables (Finnigan, Needham & Abbott, 2017), a finding which is not only surprising but also reassuring if you eat as many Quorn nuggets as me…. And when half of the world’s antibiotics are given to farmed animals in an industry which is also highly inefficient and damaging, it is time for products such as Quorn to be put on the menu everywhere, to improve health and slow environmental degradation.

*Glossary

Amino acid: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in their body. We get them through our diet by consuming protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products, lentils and other vegetables.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the body. There are two main types, one of which (low-density lipoproteins) is associated with heart attacks and strokes, since its texture is like that of fat. Together with other substances, cholesterol forms plaque, which can narrow the arteries of the heart.

Life cycle anaylsis: Life-cycle analysis is the term used to describe a type of product analysis which looks at its full life cycle – from its production, use, disposal, recycling and back to its production again. It is also known as “cradle-to-grave analysis”, and is a useful indicator of the overall environmental impact of a product at all stages of its production and consumption.

References

Apostolidis, C. & McLeay, F. (2016) It’s not vegetarian, it’s meat-free! Meat eaters, meat reducers and vegetarians and the case of Quorn in the UK. Social Business6(3), pp.267-290

BeHealthynow.co.uk (2019) Is Quorn Healthy? [online] Available at: https://www.behealthynow.co.uk/nutrition/is-quorn-healthy/ (Accessed: 02/09/2020)

Blythman, J. (2018) The Quorn Revolution: the rise of ultra-processed fake meat. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/12/quorn-revolution-rise-ultra-processed-fake-meat (Accessed: 02/09/2020)

Finnigan, T., Needham, L. & Abbott, C. (2017) Mycoprotein: a healthy new protein with a low environmental impact. Sustainable protein sources, pp. 305-325

Sadler, M. (1988) Quorn. Nutrition & Food Science. June edition.

Wiebe, M.G. (2004) Quorn TM myco-protein-overview of a successful fungal product. Mycologist18(1), pp.17-20

Don’t go! Read more about:

How to solve a food crisis

What makes a sustainable diet?

Veganism and the environment

All other food topics

Lifestyle and sustainability topics

Published by avleveri

Hi! I'm Anna, an environmental science graduate from the UK. My main interests (if you can't already tell from my blog posts) are sustainability, consumption, conservation, nutrition, fitness and food! Lots of food.

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