If you are buying into the celebrity endorsement smooch between athletes like Mo Farah and Kate Richardson, and the “fake meat” manufacturer Quorn Foods, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that these meat-substitute products are all you need to eat to increase your chances of being a world-class athlete… or at the very least eat healthier.
Well… perhaps not.
Think twice before you bite into it…
Back in 1967, the now defunct UK Imperial Chemical Industries “discovered” a very fast growing mould in the soil of Buckinghamshire and with the fear in mind that population growth would soon outpace food production the company developed mycoprotein — made by fermenting the fungus Fusarium venenatum in a broth of oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals.
Since fermented mycoprotein solids can’t be sold as food on its own, it needs a lot of extra ingredients to make it look like a finished product that imitates meat. So, mix in binders (like wheat protein), add colourings, artificial flavours, gluten, yeast, starch, acids, gums and a host of other ingredients… and voila, you have a food-like product ready to be whisked off to a local supermarket where adventurous vegetarians, health aficionados (and perhaps aspiring athletes) can pick up a packet of imitation sausages, chicken fingers and Tofurky.
Now, I apologise if what I am about to say offends Quorn devotees… but just reading the list of ingredients makes me feel a bit queasy. And I’m not the only one…
Since Quorn hit the UK market in the 1980s it has endured a slew of bad PR. And with very good reason. While the main ingredient Fusarium venenatum is supposedly edible, serious questions have been raised about its safety thanks to thousands of consumer complaints about adverse reactions like vomiting, abdominal pain, and swelling of the throat. In fact, some of these allergic reactions were known to the manufacturer even in the early days of developing the product.
In a 1977 controlled clinical study, conducted by the manufacturer,, 10 per cent of the 200 subjects who ate Quorn experienced nausea, vomiting, or stomach ache, compared to 5 per cent of 100 subjects in a control group.
The results of this study was the first piece of evidence that raised eyebrows about the safety of Quorn… Needless to say, they were kept under wraps and the study was never published.
However, subsequent studies confirmed these initial results and also highlighted other potential allergic reactions like asthma, hives and breathing difficulties. So far, at least two deaths have been linked to Quorn, including an 11-year-old boy whose parents sued the maker of Quorn in March 2015.
The advocacy group The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has heard from more than 2,000 consumers in Europe, the United States, and Australia/New Zealand who suffered with severe reactions to Quorn. However, the CSPI says that the number of people suffering with adverse effects could be much higher, since some consumers may not report symptoms, believing them to be food poisoning.
In addition, just last week Quorn Foods recalled 12,000 packs of their imitation mince product because it may contain small pieces of metal.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the 300g product “could represent a safety risk”. It added that the product being recalled, which was only sold at Tesco, had a best before date of 31 August 2018 and the batch code 136331. No other batches of Quorn Foods products were known to be affected.
Okay, I don’t know about you but the more I learn about Quorn the less appetising it sounds. It most certainly doesn’t sound like the “healthy” option it is made out to be!
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Food safety warning: Quorn recalls thousands of packs of meat free mince over metal fears, published online 02.03.17, thenorthernecho.co.uk
This Fake Meat Has Real Health Issues, published online 20.02.15, prevention.com
Did you or someone you know eat Quorn and get sick? published online, cspinet.org
Is Quorn really a healthy meat substitute? published online 06.12.14, myfoodandhappiness.com