What Is Mycoprotein?


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.

Most plant-based proteins provide significantly less protein per calorie than meat. You have to eat 450 calories worth of black beans to get the same amount of protein as you’d get in just 175 calories worth of chicken, for example. Like tofu, mycoprotein does a good job of delivering a decent amount of protein for relatively few calories.

But when we’re talking about plant-based proteins, we also need to think about protein quality. Protein researcher Nancy Rodriguez has proposed that we think of protein sources not just in terms of the total amount of protein they provide but also in terms of their essential amino acid density–or what percentage of your daily EAA requirements a serving provides.

Mycoprotein does provide all of the essential amino acids but in smaller amounts than you’d get from chicken or beef. A 3-ounce serving of mycoprotein gives you about a quarter of your daily requirement of EAAs, about the same as a similar amount of scrambled eggs. That’s only about half as much as you’d get from a serving of chicken or beef, but almost twice what you’d get from a serving of tofu.

Mycoprotein is also a decent source of fiber, with about 5 grams per serving. The particular type of fiber in mycoprotein (beta glucans) is of interest to cholesterol researchers because it appears to be particularly helpful in lowering cholesterol.

Here’s a table showing how two of the more popular Quorn products stack up to chicken, beef, eggs, and tofu.

mycoprotein comparison

Thanks to Becca for suggesting this week’s topic. I must admit, I didn’t know much about mycoprotein so I was glad to have a reason to do some research. If you enjoy the flavor and texture of these meat substitutes, they look like a healthy option for adding good quality protein to your meatless meals. I think there’s a lot to be said, however, for getting your protein from a variety of sources. So be sure to mix it up