Is Quorn sustainable? And how do the makers of Quorn assess their environmental impact? In 2016, Quorn invited the Grantham Centre to come to their factories to find out.
Here, Grantham Scholar and food security expert Patience Muchada explains what she found out.
Quorn is made from mycoprotein. Mycoprotein is a tiny member of the fungi family which can be converted into a protein. And it has an ability to replicate the taste and texture of meat.
The process for making Quorn involves adding oxygen, nitrogen, glucose and minerals to a fungus called Fusarium venenatum. All this is done in 40m high fermenters, under controlled temperature, pH, nutrient concentration and oxygen conditions to achieve the optimum growth rate.
The mycoprotein is then harvested, chilled and frozen, to achieve the meat-like texture. This means Quorn can produce a significant tonnage of protein with a meaty texture, appearance and taste, all without a single animal on site.
One could say Quorn ‘arrived’ onto the food scene at the best possible moment, given current global concerns about food. Concerns such as current and future food shortages and health issues associated with meat-heavy diets.
Plus there are worries about the socio-environmental impacts of intensive livestock farming, such as high GHG emissions and poor animal welfare.
It takes about 2kg of wheat to produce 1kg of Quorn compared to about 2-4kg of feed for a kilogram of chicken or between 12-24kg of feed for a kilogram of beef. Quorn is therefore a more efficient and environmentally friendly way of converting plants to protein.
During our visit to 2 Quorn Foods premises at Belasis in Billingham, and Stokesley, we watched presentations from heads of the company’s production, innovation and sustainability divisions.
After this we were then taken on tours of the laboratories, giant fermenters and production lines.
These tours were followed by interesting discussions about important topics such as sustainability in Quorn and its suppliers’ supply chains, and future products.
Like any enterprise, there are challenges that the Quorn team are trying to address. Results from their own product life cycle assessment have helped them to identify waste management, energy and water use efficiency as key areas for improvement.
Quorn continues to do research for product improvement. For example, research into other potential sources of glucose besides wheat. They are also looking at other binding agents beside egg albumen, in order to make vegan products.
Their work on sustainability and understanding consumer needs also ties in well with some of the work the Grantham Centre and the University of Sheffield is doing, creating the potential for future collaborations.
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Do you want to know more about the most pressing issues to do with food and sustainability? Then read this interview with our friendly food expert George Asiamah.