Magazine article Consumers' Research Magazine

Move over, Soybean ... Make Way for Mycoprotein in U.S. Food Supply

Magazine article Consumers' Research Magazine

Move over, Soybean ... Make Way for Mycoprotein in U.S. Food Supply

Article excerpt

Mycoprotein, a meat alternative, may compete with the soybean in popularity and use. Produced from a Fusarium strain of soil fungus, mycoprotein is distantly related to mushrooms. For some time, the fungus has been used in processed foods globally, but not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now, the agency is poised to approve it. Brace yourself. After approval, a plethora of processed food products containing mycoprotein will flood the market. Move over, soybean. This novel food component may replace the soybean component in foods such as simulated meat and poultry products, lasagnas, pasta sauces, fajitas, fettucini Alfredo dishes, and chicken-style tenders.

Anticipate, too, that FDA will be petitioned to allow health claims for mycoproteins. Such claims will join the chorus of claims already made for soy.

Food scientists have judged mycoprotein suitable as a protein supplement in animal feed. Again, move over, soybean.

The fungal strain used to make mycoprotein has lost its ability to cause diseases in plants. It is judged non-toxic. The cells of mycoprotein grow rapidly by continuous aerobic fermentation in a sterile environment. Any food-grade starch (e.g. glucose, potato, wheat, or corn) can serve as a base for growing mycoprotein. An ammonium salt controls the pH level and provides part of the nitrogen source for the cells. After fermentation, the mycoprotein is filtered and harvested on sheets that can be colored, flavored, and texturized into various meat-like forms, such as cutlets, steaks, sausages, tenders, patties, nuggets, and crumbles. Or, the sheets can be spray-dried to a powder and added to protein supplements, or used in dry foods such as flours and dehydrated soups. Binders such as egg albumin or whey protein are used to produce a chewy texture in the finished food product. Food processors will value mycoprotein's ability to withstand long cooking without disintegration (unlike some soy products). Nor will the mycoprotein-containing products become tough and dry (as does long-cooked beef or chicken).

History of Mycoprotein Development. In the early 1980s, concerns about a potential world food protein shortage spurred industry researchers and other scientists to investigate novel food sources. The chemical and petrochemical industries examined some of their by-products such as methane, methanol, ethanol, natural gas, and wood pulp for potential exploitation. The food industry explored the possibility of utilizing by-products from potato waste, whey from dairy processing, bagasse from sugar refining, and other wastes. The goal was to use such by-products as bases to grow single-cell proteins (SCPs) from microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and algae. The products would be "harvested" and used in animal feed as a protein food or supplement, and, if possible, in the human food supply as a meat substitute.

Mycoprotein turned out to be among the most promising. It is a product from a fungus, and people were familiar with other edible fungi foods such as mushrooms and truffles.

Mycoprotein proponents had persuasive arguments. Just as farm animals could be raised to produce more and better beef, lamb, or pork, so too could microscopic organisms be bred to yield protein more efficiently. The vats of fungus are reported to be far more efficient "protein factories" than are natural sources of protein. For example, a cow needs to eat about 10 times the amount of carbohydrates required by the fungus to make an equivalent amount of protein. A thousand pounds of fungus in a commercial fermenter can make as much protein in one day as 1,400 acres of soybeans can make in a year. The mycoprotein doubles its weight every five hours. Mycoprotein is reported to have a high protein content, and to contain all essential amino acids. Mycoprotein proponents regard its production as a matter of transferring genetics from the farmyard to the laboratory. …

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