February 9th, 2005


It Tastes Like Chicken... No Really, It Does

weather: mainly clear
outside: 4°C
mood: thinkie
We're not vegetarian, but we're cutting down on our meat intake in an effort to be healthier. Quorn was recommended to me as a high-protein chicken and beef substitute. It tastes exactly like chicken/beef, so spake the recommendation sources.

Quorn ("kworn") is a mycoprotein product manufactured by Marlow Foods in the UK. Mycoprotein is a fungus, but it's not a mushroom (as Marlow Foods originally described). Very quickly: fungus is a class of things to which mushrooms and other organisms belong. Because it has a lot of the same properties as protein, it forms strands that look a lot like meat. I don't think it's yucky; I have no problems eating anything that is deemed "food" or "safe for consumption", whatever it happens to be. But in reading about what it is, I'm a bit uncomfortable with it.

The very fact that it's a meat substitute makes me hesitate. I have two issues with that.

First of all, there's no sense in that kind of dishonesty and self-trickery. If I were to make the decision to not eat meat, it would be incredibly lame of me to purposely seek out something that tastes exactly like it, but isn't. Setting the clock way ahead to avoid being late is a behaviour that also falls into this category. To me, "lying to myself" is a sign of lack of self-discipline which I view as a weakness that is to be overcome.

My ass-backwards personal judgments aside...

Secondly, from the sounds of it, Margarine, Aspartame, Olestra and other simulations/substitutes have been really bad news.

Since learning about nutrition and general health issues, I have learned to evaluate new foods with the questions: "Is it naturally occurring?" and "Were we meant to eat it, as harvested, with little to no processing?"

Mycoprotein is naturally occurring; it was discovered in the soil in Marlow, England, sometime in the 60s when there was a perceived worldwide protein shortage. My understanding is that scientists generally point and laugh hysterically at this hypothesis now.

But mycoprotein is a saprobiont, which (I think) means it is a microorganism that feeds off of non-living or decaying organic material. It belongs somewhere in the process of decomposing organic waste and turning it into something that enriches soil... or ruins the soil, I dunno. With the little understanding I have as to its role in the small scheme of things, it doesn't sound like it was meant to be eaten directly.

But I suppose you could say the same of bread, butter, cheese, pasta and beer. Incidentally, all of those cause problems in excess too.

With respect to the processing, it's manufactured through a fermentation process that Marlow Foods says is similar to the process to make yoghurt. How much trust do I have in a company that tried to say mycoprotein is a mushroom? That's like saying a Chevy Tahoe is a compact convertible. I have trouble with their use of the word "similar".

It's very easy for the marketing/business side of things to overcome any principles of health and nutrition.