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Fungi-based protein mycoprotein for sustainable food production
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Feeding the world while prioritising human wellbeing and environmental sustainability

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Marlow Ingredients believe that by switching to fungi and plant-based proteins we can help save the planet and reduce world hunger. Here Tom Lindley, Head of Strategy and Marketing at Marlow Ingredients explains.

If we look back at the 1960s, meat was the centre of most plates at most mealtimes. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that many thought that meat was the only protein. During the 1960s, with predicted future global food shortages, scientists started their search for other solutions. One group, led by Lord Rank, Chairman of Rank Hovis McDougall made it his mission to find a new sustainable protein source.

Fast forward a few years and 3,000 soil samples later, his team of scientists discovered fusarium venenatum in the village of Marlow in the UK, a naturally growing microorganism in the fungi family that they believed could replicate the taste and texture of meat.

Through a partnership with ICI, and decades of research, they created a solution we could scale up through the natural process of fermentation. And that started the mycoprotein story.

Today, food consumption patterns and production methods are very different than they were at the start of Lord Rank’s mission. Finding sustainable food sources is not just about food shortages, it’s about the health of people and the planet too. Together we need urgent action to address the climate and health emergencies across the world.

Why we need to eat sustainably

We need to find a way to feed the world that minimises the impact on the planet.

The climate​ Earlier this year, scientists gave us our ‘final warning’ to take action on the climate crisis. The synthesis report from The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) told us we still have a chance to limit the damage that rising greenhouse gas emissions are causing to the planet.1

As the UN secretary general, António Guterres, himself said we need to “…massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once”.1

Food production accounts for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions with a Nature report highlighting that greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice that of emissions from plant-based foods.2

Health​ We need to feed the world in a way that drives health and wellbeing. Western diets are high in red and processed meat which have direct links to chronic diseases such cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke), some cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.3

As a food industry, we need to be creating sustainable, scalable, healthy and delicious food that consumers want. We need to be making it easy for consumers to be part of the solution the planet needs.

How mycoprotein can play a role

There are some worrying stats out there that prove we need to take positive action now:

  • 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3%) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021.4
  • 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020.4
  • 83% of the world’s farmland is used for raising animals and dairy which contribute just 18% of the world’s calories.5
  • The ‘global stocktake’ report from the UN has shown that countries will produce more around 22 billion tonnes more carbon dioxide in 2039 than the climate can cope with.6

There is a solution to this.

A 2022 study published in Nature found that replacing just 20% of global beef consumption with microbial protein by 2050 could cut global deforestation by 50% and also potentially lower methane emissions, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat.7

14,000 tonnes of nutritious sustainable mycoprotein comes from a very small amount of fusarium venenatum. Marlow Foods alone produces the equivalent protein to 143,000 cows every year.8

This is why Marlow Foods continues to invest in the decades of independent research into mycoprotein to support its nutritional and sustainability benefits.

As an ingredient, mycoprotein is naturally high in protein and fibre, it provides all nine essential amino acids, is low in saturated fat and contains several vitamins and minerals including zinc, choline, manganese, riboflavin, folate, and phosphorus. It uses 90% less land and water and produces 98% less carbon emissions than equivalent beef products.9

Fermenter tower

Marlow ingredients’ mycoprotein grows in 40m high fermenters

A 2023 study found that mycoprotein derived from fungi supports muscle building just as effectively as animal protein does.10

Additionally, another 2023 found that simply switching from red meat to mycoprotein can improve heart health and reduce waist circumferences.

What needs to happen next?

Fungi-based proteins like mycoprotein are distinct from plant-based foods, and they are increasingly being recognised for their distinct nutritional attributes. In fact, the protein in fungi is closer to animals than it is to plants. A study revealed that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants and have been found to share many similar proteins.

The adoption of more sustainable, nutritious protein into our diets can be a key lever in tackling the challenges of both planetary and human health. Marlow Ingredients believes collaboration with like-minded organisations and companies will drive that forward, and they’re not the only ones.

Last year a new trade association formed to advocate for fungi protein in public policy. Founding members include Quorn, Nature’s Fynd, Enough, The Better Meat Co., The Protein Brewery, Prime Roots, Mycotechnology, Aqua Cultured Foods, Mush Foods, Mycorena, MyForest Foods, Bosque Foods, ProVeg, and the Good Food Institute.

Together with the association, Marlow wants to create a third food category of fungi-based proteins to sit alongside animal and plant-based proteins based on its natural, nutritious whole food of fungi.

The future

Marlow believe the global demand for high quality protein will increase. Many forecasters suggest we’ll need 70% more protein by 2030 to support population growth. Given the world is running out of land to put farm animals out to pasture, or grow feed for animal agriculture, Marlow believe fungi-based protein must become the protein of choice.

Author: Tom Lindley, Head of Strategy and Marketing at Marlow Ingredients.


1.​ IPICC. Sixth Assessment Report. 
2. ​Xu, X.; Sharma, P.; Shu, S.; et al. (2021). Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods.​ Nature Food. 2, 724–732.
3.​ Clemente-Suárez, V. J.; Beltrán-Velasco, A. I.; Redondo-Flórez, L.; et al. (2023). Global Impacts of Western Diet and Its Effects on Metabolism and Health: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 15​(12), 2749. 
4.​ Launch. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report: Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. ​(2020). 
5.​ Poore, J.; Nemecek, T.; (2019). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. ​Science Journals. 
6.​ United Nations. Global Stocktake. 
7. ​Humpenöder, F.; Bodirsky, B.L.; Weindl, I. et al. Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein.​ Nature.​ 605, 90–96 (2022). 
8.​ University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture; Quorn Foods internal data.
9.​ Carbon Trust. (2022). Quorn’s Footprint Comparison Report. 
10. ​Monteyne, A. J.; Coelho, M. O. C.; Murton, A. J.; et al. (2023). Vegan and omnivorous high protein diets support comparable daily myofibrillar protein synthesis rates and skeletal muscle hypertrophy in young adults. ​The Journal of Nutrition. 153(6), 1680-1695.
11.​ Farsi, D.N.; Gallegos, J.L.; Finnigan, T.J.A.; et al. (2023). The effects of substituting red and processed meat for mycoprotein on biomarkers of cardiovascular risk in healthy volunteers: an analysis of secondary endpoints from Mycomeat.​ European Journal of Nutrition.
12.​ S L Baldauf, S. L.; Palmer, J. D. (1993). Animals and fungi are each other's closest relatives: congruent evidence from multiple proteins.​ PNAS. 90: (24), 11558-11562.