You’ve seen the country go gaga for Quorn’s vegan sausage rolls and the Mo Farah ads promoting it as a ‘healthy source of protein’, but is Quorn all it’s cracked up to be? And is it really healthier than traditional plant-based foods?
Here’s all you need to know about this meat-free staple.
Firstly, what on earth is Quorn?
Quorn is by no means a simple product. The journey begins in the ground, in the form of a fungus called Fusarium venenatum – and then it gets complicated.
Once extracted from the ground, it is grown in culture vessels, where the fungus is fed on a glucose starch broth, plus some minerals. It then ferments and, when dried, it ends up being mycoprotein.
The mycoprotein, of which looks similar to animal muscle fibres, is then used as the basis of Quorn. Many Quorn products also use egg albumen as a binder (vegan products use potato protein, rather than egg). It is then shaped into all the different Quorn products we know today.
Is it good for you?
This is a tough question to answer.
Let’s start with the good bits. The mycoprotein found in Quorn products is naturally high in protein (11g per 100g) and low in fat (4g per 100g) – a winning combination for those looking to watch their weight and remain satiated.
Quorn is also packed with fibre (6g per 100g), something which we all need more of, not only because it helps to reduce cholesterol but also because it is essential in feeding our gut bacteria. The mycoprotein itself is also considered a ‘complete protein’, as it contains all nine essential amino acids for adults.
Now the ‘not so good’ bits about Quorn.
They’re not ‘natural’: Okay, it might start with a natural source of protein (mycoprotein), but the heavy rounds of processing render Quorn products as ‘natural’ as McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
Similarly, there are additives included in Quorn products (for binding and firming) – something which ordinary meat products or homemade plant-based products do not need. Just take a look at the ingredients list if you need clarification – the Southern Style Chicken Burgers contain 19 ingredients.
They could contain too much protein: This might sound ludicrous, but the saying ‘there is too much of a good thing’ even applies to Quorn. As serving sizes are fairly small (one serving is considered one burger, for instance) and people, especially vegetarians, often eat more than one Quorn product per day (maybe Quorn sausages for breakfast and Quorn burgers for dinner) then you’re likely getting far too much protein. Too much protein has been found to promote bloating, bowel discomfort and dehydration.
Not all Quorn products are made equally: The list of Quorn products is now seemingly endless, containing everything from pepperoni to tikka masala, but the health benefits vary greatly, depending on the product you buy. A good rule of thumb is to look at the product and see if it is shaped in a uniform way.
For instance, the vegetarian bacon (shaped to look like bacon strips) only contains 77% mycroprotein, the rest being flavourings and oil. Quorn mince, a far less ‘orderly’ product, contains a huge 92% mycoprotein.
For vegetarians, Quorn is a godsend, providing delicious meals without missing out on the good stuff. However, I would argue there are healthier plant-based alternatives to Quron. Using lentils instead of beef or Quorn mince provides high fibre, for instance. And if you’re concerned about getting enough protein when following a vegetarian diet, pulses, like chickpeas, contain more protein per 100g (19g vs 11g in Quorn).
I’d also suggest always diversifying nutrition intake wherever possible – and, if you’re only eating Quorn products, you’ll be greatly limiting your intake to just mycoprotein. Doing so is essential for boosting your gut microbiome. Linda McCartney sausages, for instance, are made with soy protein, providing a meat-free and mycoprotein-free alternative.
And yet, while Quorn might come with its health ‘quirks’, shall we say, one thing is for sure: it is much better for the planet than meat; mycoprotein uses 90% less land and water than animal protein sources. What’s more, Quorn packaging now shows consumers the carbon consumption of each individual product – a first for the UK. That’s a step in the right direction, for sure!