- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

A new meat substitute just arriving in U.S. grocery and health food stores is not made from the usual soybeans, wheat or ground-up veggies.
It's fabricated from fermented fungus.
Fungus-based meat-free products, which have a successful 17-year track record in Europe, are being marketed by Marlow Foods Ltd., a division of AstraZeneca, under the brand name Quorn Foods.
"We've been growing really strong and have millions of happy customers," said David Wilson, vice president and general manager of Quorn Foods. "This food tastes great."
Not surprisingly, neither Britain-based Marlow Foods nor Connecticut-based Quorn is spotlighting the fact that the main ingredient in products such as Garlic & Herb Chicken-Style Cutlets or Fettucini Alfredo with Chicken-Style Tenders & Broccoli is a soil fungus known as Fusarium venenatum that's grown in large vats.
"Quorn foods are made with mycoprotein, an all-natural vegetable protein in the mushroom family that offers a strong nutritional profile and an authentic meatlike texture," says the Quorn Web site. Labels on Quorn products say mycoprotein "comes from a small, unassuming member of the mushroom family, which we ferment like yogurt."
The American Mushroom Institute (AMI) is unhappy with the information available on the Web site and on product labels that describe the mycoprotein in the foods as being "mushroom in origin." For instance, the ingredients listed for a 10.6-ounce box of Quorn Chicken-Style Patties start out with mycoprotein. There is an asterisk next to the term, and a reference below says: "Mushroom in origin, 48 percent of product."
"They certainly don't contain mushrooms, as any consumer thinks of a mushroom," said Laura Phelps, president of the institute.
"I'm told mycoproteins are made from a certain fungus. A mushroom is the fruiting body of a fungus, not the actual fungus. … We're concerned if something is being labeled and presented as a mushroom product when it's not."
She said AMI was happy to learn that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a complaint on Thursday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The center asked the agency to take action against what it called "deceptive labeling" by those who produce and market Quorn Foods.
"Consumers aren't surprised to find mushrooms in a meat substitute," said CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. "But they would be surprised to find that a fungus one never before in the American food supply has quietly found its way into grocery stores, without the kind of government scrutiny a new food deserves."
In a letter to Joe Leavitt, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Mr. Jacobson said: "Though all mushrooms are fungi, not all fungi are mushrooms and Fusarium is not a mushroom."
FDA spokeswoman Ruth Welch said she could not react to the precise labeling concerns raised by CSPI and AMI.
But she said the FDA believes the mycoprotein used in the meat-free Quorn foods is a "form of fungus related to the mushroom."
Mr. Wilson of Quorn said the company stands firmly behind its advertising and labeling, which he says has also been used in Europe.
He said the average consumer would not know what a mycoprotein is, but does know a mushroom.
"Consumers want help in understanding what a product is. A mycoprotein is a fungal protein, and a mushroom is a fungus, so they are in the same family," he said.
Sanford A. Miller, who has studied mycoproteins for decades as a former director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said mushrooms and mycoproteins are related because the latter is a product from a fungus and a mushroom is a fungus. He calls the issues being raised by CSPI and others "trivial" something that should be worked out between the food companies and the FDA.
According to articles in the Food Technology journal and in Consumers Research magazine, mycoprotein is low in saturated fat and high in fiber and protein, reduces harmful cholesterol, may act as an appetite suppressant, and tastes good. The last asset is not shared by soybean protein, which is used in most artificial meat and poultry currently sold in the United States.

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