The filamentous fungus (or "mold") Fusarium venenatum is known mainly as the source of the mycoprotein that is marketed in meat substitute products known commercially as Quorn. The development of Quorn and the manufacturing process used to make it have been reviewed by Wiebe (Wiebe 2002 and references therein). The fungus used in this process was misidentified for a decade as F. graminearum, an economically important pathogen on wheat and barley (Yoder and Christanson 1998). Although the mycoprotein derived from F. venenatum has been generally recognized as safe for human consumption, some people may have serious allergic reactions to it after consuming Quorn products (e.g., Katona and Kaminski 2002; Hoff et al. 2003).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The filamentous fungus (or "mold") Fusarium venenatum is known mainly as the source of the mycoprotein that is marketed in meat substitute products known commercially as Quorn. The development of Quorn and the manufacturing process used to make it have been reviewed by Wiebe (Wiebe 2002 and references therein).
Although the mycoprotein derived from F. venenatum has been generally recognized as safe for human consumption, some people may have serious allergic reactions to it after consuming Quorn products (e.g., Katona and Kaminski 2002; Hoff et al. 2003).
Fusarium venenatum was discovered growing in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom, in 1967 by ICI as part of the effort during the 1960s to find alternative sources of food to fill the protein gap caused by the growing world population. It was originally misidentified as Fusarium graminearum.
The strain Fusarium venenatum A3/5 (IMI 145425, ATCC PTA-2684) was developed commercially by an ICI and Rank Hovis McDougall joint venture to derive a mycoprotein used as a food. Because the hyphae of the fungus are similar in length and width to animal muscle fibres the mycoprotein is used as an alternative to meat and is marketed to vegetarians as Quorn. It is also suitable as a substitute for fat in dairy products and a substitute for cereal in breakfast cereals and snacks.
Fusarium venenatum intended for use in Quorn products is grown under aerobic conditions in culture vessels by what is known as the 'Quorn Process'. The vessels are composed of two vertical cylinders, ~50 metres high, connected to one another at their top and bottom, so as to form a continuous loop with a volume of ~150 cubic metres. Ports on the vessel allow the various ingredients involved to be added and removed. The culture broth is composed of 95% glucose, derived by the predigestion of maize starch. Potassium, magnesium and phosphate sources are added as a necessary mineral trace. Both these and the glucose are sterilised prior to use. Additional make up broth can be injected at the base of the vessel as material is removed. The broth is maintained at a pH of 6 and a temperature of 28–30°C, with a biomass density of ~15 grams per litre; equating to a total vessel biomass of ~2,250 kg.
As culture growth occurs, carbon dioxide is produced and released through a vent at the top of the loop. A heat exchanger, located in the union between the towers at their base, allows excess heat generated by the culture to be removed. One tower within the pair contains a sparge bar, also located towards the tower's base. Air and ammonia are injected through the sparge bar to provide the oxygen and nitrogen required for respiration and protein production. This sparging action causes the pair of towers to function as an air lift culture vessel. The broth continually circulates between the two towers; as it is driven upwards by the sparge bar in one tower, it falls in the opposing tower. Such a stirring (or circulating) method can be more preferable for biological cultures as it is less likely to cause damage to cell membranes by mechanical compression or abrasion. The denser Fusarium venenatum culture falls to the base of the loop, where it is removed and heated to 64°C for 20 minutes. Filtration is used to harvest the Fusarium venenatum, with this then being dried prior to blending with a binder. The majority of Quorn products are bound by rehydrated egg white, which makes them unsuitable for a vegan diet. However, Quorn has been reducing its egg white usage and now offers an egg-free alternative. 
The complete vessels contain ~230 tons of broth, as glucose is denser than water. 30 tons of the cultured broth are removed per hour. The culture density within the broth at filtration varies from 1.5% (the vessel's standard culture density) to 25-30% w/v, equating to a standard production rate of ~292 hydrated kg per hour, or ~7 hydrated metric tons per 24-hour cycle. Giving a vessel dilution rate of ~13% w/w per hour; the amount of broth and culture mass being removed and then made back up per hour, with respect to the total mass in the vessel. The dry mass contains 25% cell wall, 48% protein, 12% soluble carbohydrate and 12% fat. The total protein content varies from 43-85%.
- GRAS NOTIFICATION for MYCOPROTEIN, Submitted by Marlow FoodsLtd, November 30,2001 accessed 2011-06-27]
- From petri dish to plate: The £172m fungi The Independent published 2005-06-07, accessed 2011-06-27
- Myco-protein from Fusarium venenatum: a well-established product for human consumption, M. Wiebe, Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Volume 58, Number 4, 421-427, doi:10.1007/s00253-002-0931-x accessed 2011-06-27
Names and Taxonomy
This species and its relatives can be very difficult to distinguish from each other and the systematics of this group is not well resolved. The fungus used to make Quorn was misidentified for a decade as F. graminearum, an economically important pathogen on wheat and barley (Yoder and Christanson 1998).
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