A relatively new meat alternative derived from a fungus is popping up in grocery stores across the United States and nutritionists say it could provide a welcome and healthful change to soy-based products for vegetarians or people looking to lower their meat intake.
Quorn, as the product is called, is composed of protein from a fungus, egg whites and milk protein. Most other meat alternatives are made from soybeans. The line of Quorn products, manufactured by Marlow Foods of the United Kingdom, includes imitations of chicken nuggets, chicken breasts and ground beef. The meat substitute was launched in the U.S. market this year and Marlow has begun expanding distribution to include more grocery stores in recent months.
Although soy is noted for its positive effects on the heart, Quorn may have some health benefits of its own.
Quorn is a healthy alternative for "people who choose to eat less red meat" and want to reduce their intake of artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol, Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, told United Press International. Quorn contains no cholesterol and much lower levels of saturated fat than most meat.
Quorn also is lower in calories so it "could be useful in weight loss programs and maintaining a healthy eating style," Rarback said, adding, "it is a complete protein so you can substitute Quorn for meat."
Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Massachusetts, agreed Quorn was a healthy meat alternative.
"One of the most notable qualities about Quorn is that it provides fiber and protein in the same package, and the fiber levels are significant. Soy cannot offer the same nutritional profile," she told UPI. "I think that Quorn provides people with another meat-free option."
Despite the health benefits, the bottom line is whether the product tastes good, Rarback said. "Our tastes are very individual and what we eat boils down to what tastes good to us," she said.
That is where Quorn may have an advantage over other meat alternatives. Marlow claims its unique fungus combination creates a taste and texture that very closely resembles that of meat. Those who have tried it seem to agree.
Elizabeth Manning, 37, of Linden, Va., who is an editor with UPI, said she had tried soy-based meat alternatives but was "really impressed" by Quorn.
"One thing that really surprised me about it is they recreated the texture of muscle fibers (in meat)," she said.
Her husband, whom Manning describes as a "mainstream meat-and-potatoes guy," was the real test. "He actually thought this was good," she said. "That's the first meat alternative he's said that about."
Last August, the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the Food and Drug Administration to remove Quorn products from the U.S. market because it claimed some people were having an allergic reaction to the fungus that included severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Marlow Foods said the claim was spurious. The company acknowledged that a small number of people may have a reaction to Quorn but it maintained that this is far fewer than the number of people who have allergic reactions to fish, soy and milk.
Rarback also said the meat substitute appeared to be safe. She pointed out it has been sold in Europe for 17 years without any problems.
"There doesn't seem to be a major problem with Quorn," she said.