Mycoprotein is a type of protein that comes from a fungus, a category of living things that includes mushrooms. Mycoprotein is a popular ingredient in meat alternative products.
What Is Mycoprotein?
Fungus (singular) or fungi (plural) includes mushrooms, parasites, and yeast. The fungi kingdom is as wide-reaching as the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom. Fungi have unique digestion and cell structures that make them different from other types of living things.
Mycoprotein is made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum. This fungus is harmless and grows in the soil. Researchers first discovered it in a garden in the U.K. in the 1960s.
Food companies process Fusarium venenatum on a large scale to make mycoprotein. It has long, thin fibers that can imitate the texture of meat.
How Is Mycoprotein Made?
Mycoprotein production uses a technique called fermentation. In fermentation, harmless bacteria change the form of a food over time. Beer, yogurt, sourdough bread, and more foods are made using fermentation.
Food companies make mycoprotein using large vats called fermenters. The fungus first grows inside the fermenters. Food producers add specific amounts of water, sugar, and other chemicals to help it grow more.
The chemicals react with the fungus to create amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins.
The fungus’s amino acids combine to make mycoprotein. One batch of mycoprotein can take about 5 weeks to make.
What Foods Have Mycoprotein?
Mycoprotein is the main ingredient in many imitation meat and animal meat replacement products. Many grocery stores carry these products. They can imitate the taste and texture of:
- Fish fillets
- Fish sticks
- Chicken patties
- Chicken nuggets
- Beef burgers
- Beef steaks
Not all imitation meat products contain mycoprotein. Other popular meat replacements include soy, pea protein, gluten, and other ingredients.
Benefits of Mycoprotein
Mycoprotein has many health, ethical, and environmental benefits.
Protein. You need the nutrient protein in your diet for healthy growth, healing, and other needs. Protein is made of amino acids.
Your body can make some proteins on its own with certain amino acids. The rest of the amino acids need to come from the foods you eat. These are called essential amino acids.
Eating mycoprotein is an easy way to get more protein in your diet. It has all the essential amino acids your body needs to make enough protein. Many other vegetarian protein sources don’t contain all essential amino acids.
It fits many different diets. Many people choose not to eat meat from animals. People who are vegetarian, vegan, observe certain religions, or have allergies may avoid eating animal meats or other animal products.
Mycoprotein products are mostly made from non-animal sources. Some products contain eggs. Others don't have any ingredients from animals. This helps people get enough protein if they don’t eat meat.
It can be healthier than other meats. Mycoprotein is high in many nutrients like fiber that may help control blood cholesterol and blood sugar. This could be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Mycoprotein may make you feel more full than some animal proteins like chicken. This can help prevent overeating and weight gain.
Meat from cows, pigs, and lambs are higher in saturated fats. Eating too much saturated fat can cause heart disease and other health problems. Mycoprotein helps you get similar amounts of protein without as much harmful fat.
It’s better for the environment. Meat production contributes to pollution and climate change. Raising animals for meat needs large amounts of land, water, and energy. A growing world population needs more of these resources to make enough food.
Mycoprotein production uses much less land and energy. Many people eat mycoprotein products to help reduce climate change.
Limits of Mycoprotein
Mycoprotein has some drawbacks for health.
Allergic reactions. A small amount of people who eat mycoprotein products experience allergic reactions. These reactions are usually mild but they can be severe or life-threatening.
Symptoms of allergies to mycoprotein include:
- Hives or rash
- Swollen eyes or tongue
- Tingling or itchiness in the mouth
- Trouble breathing
- Asthma attack
Talk to your doctor if you think you’re allergic to mycoprotein. Other ingredients in mycoprotein products may be causing the reaction.
It’s not always healthy. Just because a food is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many mycoprotein products are processed with high amounts of sodium, fat, and other ingredients. These can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
A fried nugget or large burger made from mycoprotein isn’t necessarily any healthier than one made from animal meat. Mycoprotein can be one part of an overall healthy diet.