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What Is Mycoprotein?

Mycoprotein is a plant-based source of protein you might not have heard much about. Here's the 411 on this alternative protein source. 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
August 30, 2017
Episode #443

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Becca writes:

"I'd love to hear your thoughts on mycoprotein. I've been using it as a chicken substitute but I don't know much about it."

“Myco” refers to things related to fungi but mycoprotein is not from mushrooms. Rather, it’s produced by a thread-like fungus that’s found in the soil. The official name is Fusarium venenatum.

Mycoprotein is a relatively new thing. It was literally cooked up back in the 1980s by some British industrialists who were worried about a global food crisis--specifically, they were worried that we would be unable to produce enough protein to sustain a growing population. By trial and error, they came up with a process in which the spores are fermented in big vats, with glucose as a food source and various other nutrients. The resulting biomass resembles a sort of fibrous dough that’s high in protein but also high in fiber.  It also has a somewhat meat-like texture and a faint mushroomy smell.

Where can you find mycoprotein?

Mycoprotein is featured in a line of vegetarian meat substitutes sold under the brand name Quorn. As far as I know, Quorn products, which include things like fake chicken tenders and ground beef substitute, are the only way consumers can buy mycoprotein. It’s not available as a protein powder, for example, or as a raw ingredient.

The original Quorn products use small amounts of egg or milk protein to enhance the texture, and malted barley for the flavor, and this makes them inappropriate for vegans and those avoiding gluten. However, the company has now expanded its product line to include some vegan and gluten-free products as well. You’d just need to check your labels carefully.

Is Mycoprotein Safe?

A few years ago, the consumer watchdog organization Center for Science in the Public Interest expressed concern about the safety of mycoprotein, based on a handful of adverse reports. They petitioned the FDA to bad the ingredient or to label it as potentially hazardous, which the FDA ultimately declined to do.

You’d certainly want to avoid mycoprotein if you have any sensitivity or allergy to mushrooms or fungi. Quorn is also a good source of fiber and, as with any fiber-rich food, eating a large amount may cause some gas or other digestive issues in some people. But mycoprotein has been widely distributed in the UK and Europe for several decades, and more recently in North America, and has a much lower rate of reported problems than foods containing soy, for example.

How does Mycoprotein Stack Up Nutritionally?

In terms of protein, a 3 ounce serving of mycoprotein-based meat substitutes contains a respectable 10 to 12 grams of protein. That’s only about half as much as in a 3-ounce serving of chicken or beef but a bit more than a similar-size serving of eggs or tofu.

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