Quorn is produced as both a cooking ingredient and a range of ready meals. Quorn is sold (largely in Europe but also in other countries) as a healthy food and an alternative to meat, especially for vegetarians. As it uses egg white as a binder, it is not suitable for vegans.
A shortage of protein-rich foods by the 1980s was predicted during the 1950s. In response to this, many research programmes were undertaken to utilise single-cell biomass as an animal feed. Contrary to the trend, Lord Rank instructed the Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) Research Centre to investigate converting starch (the waste product of cereal manufacturing undertaken by RHM) into a protein-rich food for human consumption.
Following an extensive screening process, the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum, discovered in 1967, was isolated as the best candidate. In 1980, RHM was given permission to sell mycoprotein for human consumption after a ten-year evaluation programme - probably making Quorn one of the most tested foods in existence.
The initial retail product was produced in 1985 by Marlow Foods (named after RHM's headquarters in Marlow, Buckinghamshire) - a joint venture between RHM and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) who provided a fermenter left vacant from their abandoned single-cell feed programme. Patents for growing and processing the fungus, and other intellectual properties in the brand, were invested in Marlow by the two partners. Although the food sold well in the initial test market of the RHM staff canteen, the large supermarket chains were unconvinced until Lord Sainsbury, owner of supermarket Sainsbury's agreed to stock the novel food. Quorn entered widespread distribution in the UK in 1994, and was introduced to other parts of Europe in the 1990s and to the United states in 2002. The initial advertising campaign for Quorn featured sports personalities including footballer Ryan Giggs, rugby player Will Carling and runner Sally Gunnell.
Although the mycoprotein was originally conceived as a protein-rich food supplement for the predicted global famine, the food shortage never materialised. In 1989 a survey revealed almost half of the UK population was reducing their intake of red meats and a fifth of young people were vegetarians. As a result, Marlow Foods decided to sell Quorn as a new healthy meat analogue which was free of animal fats and cholesterol.
When ICI hived off its biological products divisions from the core chemical business in 1993, Marlow became part of the Astra Zeneca group, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. In 2003 Zeneca sold Marlow, the Quorn business, and associated trademarks and patents, to private equity firm Montagu Private Equity for £70 million. Two years later food giant Premier Foods acquired Marlow for £172 million.
Marlow sells Quorn brand mycoprotein in ready-to-cook forms (as cubes and a form resembling minced meat), and later introduced a range of chilled vegetarian meals based on Quorn. Its range includes pizzas, lasagna, cottage pie, and formed Quorn products resembling sliced meat, hotdogs, and burgers. As of 2006 it is available in stores in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, the US, Switzerland and Republic of Ireland. In the UK it enjoys around 60% of the meat-replacement food market, with annual sales of around £95 million. Until December 2003 Quorn had been available in France.
Quorn is made from the soil mold Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684 (previously misidentified as the parasitic mold Fusarium graminearum). The fungus is grown in continually oxygenated water in large, sterile fermentation tanks. During the growth phase glucose is added as a food for the fungus, as are various vitamins and minerals (to improve the food value of the resulting product). The resulting mycoprotein is then extracted and heat-treated to remove excess levels of RNA. Previous attempts at producing such fermented protein foodstuffs were thwarted by excessive levels of DNA or RNA; without the heat treatment, purine, found in nucleic acids, is metabolised producing uric acid, which can lead to gout.
The product is then dried and mixed with chicken egg albumen, which acts as a binder. It is then textured, giving it some of the grained character of meat, and pressed either into a mince (resembling ground beef), forms resembling chicken breasts, meatballs, turkey roasts, or into chunks (resembling diced chicken breast). In these forms Quorn has a varying color and a mild flavour resembling the imitated meat product, and is suitable for use as a replacement for meat in many dishes, such as stews and casseroles. The final Quorn product is high in vegetable protein and dietary fibre and is low in saturated fat and salt. The amount of dietary iron it contains is lower than that of most meats.
Contrary to some suggestions, Quorn is not genetically modified: the fungus used is still genetically unmodified from the state in which it was discovered. The different tastes and forms of Quorn are results of industrial processing of the raw fungus.
Quorn's 2002 debut in the United States was more problematic than its European introduction had been — the sale of Quorn was contested by The American Mushroom Institute, Gardenburger and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. They filed complaints with advertising and trading-standards watchdogs in Europe and the USA, claiming that the labelling of Quorn as "mushroom based" was deceptive. The CSPI, observing that while a mushroom is a fungus, fusarium is not a mushroom, and they quipped, "Quorn's fungus is as closely related to mushrooms as humans are to jellyfish."
CSPI also expressed concern that some proteins present in Quorn could produce unexpected allergic reactions in some consumers, and continues to lobby for its removal from stores on this basis. But as others counter, milk, peanuts, soy, eggs, and many other foods are common allergens (often fatally), setting a precedent that simply being an allergen for some consumers is not a reasonable cause to remove a product from stores. Calling the product "fungus food", CSPI claimed in 2003 that it "sickens 4.5% of eaters". The manufacturer disputes the figure, claiming that only 0.0007% (1 in 146,000) suffer adverse reactions. The CSPI's claims were disputed by Marlow and described by Leslie Bonci, professor of nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, as "overblown". CSPI have in turn been accused of using the most extreme and overblown quotations they receive for shock value. Pundit Steven Milloy, writing for the American channel Fox News, said "CSPI appears to have an unsavory relationship with Quorn competitor, Gardenburger" and called the CSPI's complaints "unscrupulous shrieking". Gardenburger in turn refuted this, saying Milloy's "unsavory relationship" claim was "untrue and groundless".
The UK's Advertising Standards Authority also had concerns over Marlow's practice of marketing Quorn as "mushroom in origin", saying it had been "misleading consumers". The ASA noted "despite the advertiser’s explanation that they used the term because customers were unfamiliar with the main ingredient, mycoprotein, the ASA considered that the claim implied that Quorn was made from mushroom. Marlow Foods were asked either to delete the claim or give in the same font size, a statement of the mycoprotein origin of the product, or the fungal origin of the product."
Quorn's uptake in the vegetarian market was hampered by the use of battery eggs in its production process, a practice opposed on ethical grounds by many vegetarians. For this reason, the Vegetarian Society initially did not approve these products. Working with the Vegetarian Society, Marlow began phasing out battery eggs in 2000, and by 2004 all Quorn products sold in the UK were produced without battery eggs, earning the seal of approval of the UK branch of the Vegetarian Society.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest. ""Quorn complaints"". Retrieved 2006-05-20. - CSPI's page on its concerns about Quorn
- Farhad Manjoo. ""A Mushrooming Quorn Controversy"". Retrieved 2006-05-20. - Wired magazine report of Quorn's USA debut
- Management Today magazine, article dated 1 March 2004: "Quorn is the leading brand in the UK's £582 million vegetarian market, according to The Grocer, with sales of £75 million."
- "History". Quorn USA website. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
- Melanie Warner (2005-05-03). "Lawsuit Challenges a Meat Substitute". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- "What is Quorn?". Quorn USA website. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
- "Quorn joins Premier line-up for £172m". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Quorn to get a higher profile as Premier buys maker for £172m". Yorkshire Post. 2005-06-07. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- "Acquisition of Marlow Foods Holdings Limited for £172m". Press release announcing acquisition by Premier Foods. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Quorn timeline". Quorn UK website. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Vegetarian group backs McDonalds". BBC News Online. 2004-10-01. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- "Mycoprotein and Quorn product manufacture". Marlow Foods USA. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Marlow Foods Locality". Quorn UK website (Google cache). Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "4½% of Britons Report Problems After Eating Quorn". CSPI press release. 2003-09-23. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- Joe Lewandowski (2002-10-1). "Quorn Dogged: Scientists Call Advocacy Group's Complaints Unfounded". The Natural Foods Merchandiser. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- For example, citing of a comment from the CSPI Quorn complaint website that the consumer "was twice incontinent of feces in public!!" "Victims of Quorn Poisoning".
- Steven Milloy (2002-08-30). "Quorn & CSPI: The Other Fake Meat". Fox News. Retrieved 2006-05-20. Check date values in:
- Scott C. Wallace, CEO of Gardenburger. "Gardenburger rebuttal to: "The Other Fake Meat" by Steven Milloy". Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Annual Report 2002 (PDF, page 5)" (PDF). Advertising Standards Authority. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- Tina Fox, Chief Executive, Vegetarian Society. "Selling the Symbol : The Vegetarian Society's Seedling Licence Scheme". speech to the 36th World Vegetarian Congress in November 2004. Retrieved 2006-05-20.
- "Soya & mycoprotein information sheet". Vegetarian Society. Retrieved 2006-05-20.