A food system involves the entire production process of a particular food – from its production to its final consumption. The ultimate aim is for a food system to begin with a production process that is sustainable and to result in its inclusion within a healthy diet.
Until now, this all-encompassing concept has been overlooked. As science grows we are now becoming aware that food systems need to take care of the environment as well as nurturing human health.
The shape of what constitutes a healthy diet is changing rapidly as environmental factors begin to be more closely considered than they ever have before. Here we provide an insight into the pioneering protein – Mycoprotein.
How Did Mycoprotein Come About?
Mycoprotein was developed during the Green Revolution. Lord Rank in the 1960s was looking to find alternative protein sources for growing populations – and that trend has strongly re-emerged. Today there is a new demand for alternative, complete protein options with a dual role of feed growing populations and lowering ramifications that food production systems can have on the environment.
In the early 1960s, just like today, there were concerns that population growth could lead to global food storages. Lord Rank was the Chairman of the Rank Hovis McDougall group of companies and a major manufacturer of cereals with starch being the main waste product. Lord Rank together with his Research Director, Dr Arnold Spicer, triggered an investigation into the potential of turning this starch into a protein suitable for human consumption using fermentation.
After provisional investigations Dr Spicer and his team concluded that a fungus micro-organism could hold the key to solving the texture problem thanks to its filamentous cell structure. After testing more than 3000 soil organism samples from across the world they identified Fusarium venenatum from a garden in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in the United Kingdom.
It was discovered that this unique micro fungus could convert carbohydrate into protein. The protein was produced from the fermentation of the fungal spores in large fermenters with glucose, fixed nitrogen, vitamins and minerals. The resultant protein created was named ‘Mycoprotein’. When subject to steaming, chilling and freezing this was found to create a meat-like texture, similar to chicken breast when seen under a microscope. During the 1980s, Marlow Foods developed Mycoprotein as the key ingredient of the QuornTM product range.
Mycoprotein is a meat-free protein that can be part of a plant-based eating style. It is high in protein and fibre, low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol.
- Mycoprotein contains all nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, which can only be obtained through the diet.
- Mycoprotein contains 6g of dietary fibre per 100g, of which 12% is soluble and 88% is insoluble. It provides more fibre per 100g than baked beans (3.7g), brown bread (3.6g), baked potatoes (1.2g) and brown rice (0.8g).
- Mycoprotein provides the two fatty acids that are known to be essential for humans: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). It does not contain trans fats or cholesterol.
Links with Health
A growing body of evidence has looked at how mycoprotein consumption could affect markers of health. Research so far suggests some evidence of sustained satiety, improved metabolic profiling, and muscular protein synthetic response that warrants ongoing investigation.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has shown that mycoprotein is a bioavailable source of protein that is also insulinotropic i.e. meaning that it stimulates the production and/or activity of insulin. Further studies are needed but this indicates that mycoprotein may help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis rates. This is of particular value to active and ageing populations. Other research has focused on the following areas:
- Cholesterol profile – Mycoprotein has been shown to reduce total and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol, particularly amongst those with higher levels at baselines. It has also been found to improve high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. Mycoprotein itself is completely free from cholesterol.
- Hunger & Appetite – Satiety is the feeling of being full after consuming food or drink for the period of time after consumption until hunger returns. Mycoprotein appears to have a greater satiating effect than foods which contain a similar amount of fibre – these effects may be due to the specific fibre profile present in Mycoprotein.
- Obesity & Type 2 Diabetes – Mycoprotein may be useful in the management of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes as it appears to show beneficial effects on glycaemia and insulinaemia, as evidenced by two trials.
- Fibre profile – Mycoprotein is a source of fibre. Beta glucans are the main fibre form found in Mycoprotein, and this type of fibre appears to be particularly useful in lowering cholesterol and helping to regulate postprandial blood glucose levels.
Today, we are facing the potential uncertainty of global resources and being able to feed a growing world population. This is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by the year 2050, with this there is an expected 80% greater demand for animal-based food.
Global food production and dietary patterns have changed significantly over the past 50 years. There has been a needed increase in crop yields and improved production methods, which have contributed to a fall in hunger, improved life expectancy, lower infant and child mortality rates and a decrease in world poverty. Unfortunately, the results have not all been positive and with these changes a shift has been seen to less healthy diets.
Modern age has not only bought about an increase in obesity and diet-related diseases, but also to environmental degradation – one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Food production is now known to be the largest cause of global environmental change, and is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. Mycoprotein is made using Fusarium venenatum – a protein source from the earth, and is produced by fermentation – with minimal demand for land or environmental burden.
We have becoming more environmentally aware than ever before. Growing populations and limited land availability appear to be driving this. Generation Z and Alpha are also likely to continue driving awareness via social media. In the future, it is expected that we will not be solely reliant on animal foods as protein sources. Innovative proteins such as Mycoprotein amongst others have a central role to play in providing the growing world with nutritious and
environmentally friendly proteins.
Derbyshire EJ & Ayoob KT (2019) Mycoprotein Nutritional and Health Properties. Nutrition Today, Volume 54, Number 1, pp1-9. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/Fulltext/2019/01000/Mycoprotein__Nutritional_and_Health_Properties.4.aspx
Willett W et al. (2019) Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. pp1-48.
BDA [British Dietetic Association] The Association of UK Dietitians (2018) Eating Patterns for Health and Environmental Sustainability. Available at:
Dunlop MV et al. (2017) Mycoprotein represents a bioavailable and insulinotropic non-animal-derived dietary protein source: a dose-response study. British Journal of Nutrition 118(9):673-685.
Bottin JH et al. (2016) Mycoprotein reduces energy intake and postprandial insulin release without altering glucagon-like peptide-1 and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine concentrations in healthy overweight and obese adults: a randomised-controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition 116(2):360-74.
This work was supported by Marlow Foods Ltd. The content of the insight has been written independently.