Meatless brand Quorn is working to demystify fungus-derived mycoprotein – sometimes known as mushroom meat – to show consumers all its benefits, from a sustainable food source to a health-promoting protein. The work comes as a growing number of adults are eating less meat, with recent figures showing that more than seven million American adults now follow a meat-free diet.
“Quorn’s research journey began more than 35 years ago, when mycoprotein was a novel food and had to undergo rigorous testing to prove it was safe to consume. Studies have shown some positive health benefits, so we’ve been investing in exploring the link between mycoprotein and health ever since,” Hannah Theobald, Ph.D., head of nutrition at Quorn Foods, told VegNews.
In recent years, the brand has been diving deeper into research, starting scientific research into the health benefits of mushroom meat, which range from heart health to muscle protein synthesis. A recent study published Journal of Nutrition Mycoprotein has been shown to be just as effective at helping build muscle during resistance training as animal protein. The study, by researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, claims to be the first to discover whether a vegetarian diet rich in mycoprotein can support muscle growth during resistance training in the same way as an omnivorous diet.
Research suggests that, in addition to its excellent nutritional profile, the structural complexity of mycoprotein’s cell wall, which is retained through the manufacturing process, may explain why it is so good for metabolic health.
Additionally, research published by the University of Exeter in 2020 found that mycoprotein builds more muscle than milk protein, and a 2021 study concluded that a mycoprotein-rich vegetarian diet helps maintain muscle tissue in older adults.
Another study found that meat substitutes like mycoprotein can lower bad cholesterol, while another study found that mycoprotein is associated with gut health benefits and a reduction in genotoxins known to cause colon cancer.
“With more advice encouraging everyone to eat less meat to improve health, both for their bodies and the planet, the benefits of alternatives like Quorn’s Mycoprotein become even more important,” says Theobald.
Theobald also points out that mycoprotein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids our bodies need, making it a high-quality protein. It’s also high in fiber (“most Americans don’t eat anywhere near enough fiber,” says Theobald), low in saturated fat, free of artificial trans-fats and cholesterol, and it also provides riboflavin, choline, folate, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
“Because of these factors, it opens the door to a variety of health and nutritional benefits that we continue to discover and explore,” Theobald said.
Is Mycoprotein Healthy?
But what does Quorn want to achieve with its scientific results? “The word ‘fungus’ can be somewhat intimidating to consumers, so these studies help demystify that term and open their eyes to the potential of foods with nutrient-rich alternative proteins,” Tim Ingmyer, chief research and development officer at Quorn Foods, told VegNews.
And, significantly, Quorn wants to ensure that mycoprotein is recognized as a healthy and sustainable protein source by governments and stakeholders around the world, including in the United States.
“The US government is currently reviewing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, so I’d really like to see them recognize mycoprotein, or fungal protein, in their update and in future updates,” Theobald said. “We found a lot of evidence to support this question.”
Such research could help the wider mycoprotein sector build a stronger position within the meat alternative market. In fact, according to market research firm Future Market Insights, the global mycoprotein market is expected to reach nearly $1 billion by 2032.
“If we are to facilitate a global dietary shift to mycoprotein-rich foods, it is important that the benefits (and uses) of mycoprotein are as well known as everyday ingredients such as meat or wheat,” says Ingmeier.
“At a time when concerns are growing around highly processed foods, our hope is that establishing a solid foundation of high-quality nutritional and environmental research on mycoprotein will help alleviate any concerns about its use.”
Building on mushroom meat science
In addition to the studies already conducted, Quorn continues to build on the solid foundation of its research. To do this, the brand partners with universities and research institutes to conduct research and support early career researchers. Importantly, Theobald says, Quorn gives all its academic partners freedom of publication, encouraging them to publish their results whether they favor Quorn or not.
While the brand’s key areas of research are currently focused on gut health, cardiometabolic health, muscle protein synthesis and understanding the effects of the general structure of Quorn mycoprotein on health, there is still much more to be done. “We are embarking on an exciting new study to understand the effect of mycoprotein on weight loss on a low-calorie diet and whether it can help prevent subsequent weight regain,” says Theobald.
“If we want to see a shift towards a healthier and more sustainable diet around the world, it is essential that Quorn mycoprotein and the scientific evidence on health be made publicly available. We are committed to continuing our research to understand the wider health benefits of mycoprotein and the mechanisms behind these benefits.”