Those who frequent the offices of the Missoula Independent are no doubt familiar with the tortuously tantalizing aromas that invade our nasal passages by late morning. That smell, of spices and fry oil, wafts through the walls from our building-mates to the south, Tipu’s Tiger. More than once it has occurred to me that it just isn’t fair that we have to endure such a tease without at least a samosa or two from time to time.
Well, a tiny bit of order was restored to the universe recently when Chef Boy Ari sat down with Bipin Patel, founder of Tipu’s, to sample a new ingredient that has found its way onto the Tipu’s menu: Quorn.
A meat-substitute made from the fungus Fusarium gramineurum, Quorn has been big in Europe since 1985, when the British company Marlow Foods began manufacturing the stuff. Only recently has Quorn been given approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for distribution in the United States.
Originally discovered growing in the dirt around Buckinghamshire, UK, the fungus is now cultured in large vats to which a steady supply of oxygen, nitrogen, sugar, and vitamins are added. Finally, it is mixed with egg whites and flavorings, and then processed into various shapes. More than 14,000 tons of Quorn are produced annually, much of which is packaged in a variety of ready-to-serve forms such as pies, casseroles, and Chilled Quorn Chunks.
For the moment, Missoulians have two local options for obtaining a Quorn fix: The Good Food Store, and Tipu’s. But according to Patel, something this good won’t stay obscure for long. “Imagine going to the supermarket and not being able to buy tofu,” he says. “Quorn is one of those products indispensable to a vegetarian restaurant owner. It’s only a matter of time before other restaurants follow suit.”
Healthwise, Quorn displays impressive qualities. Ounce for ounce, it contains almost twice as much protein as eggs, twice the fiber of fresh broccoli, about half the calories and one-third the fat of skinless chicken, with zero cholesterol.
This all sounds pretty cool, but the pertinent question remains: How does it taste? Well, dear reader, don’t think for a minute that Chef Boy Ari would even consider endorsing any new-fangled fungal product before subjecting the product to scrutiny. And if that Quorn didn’t taste like the real deal, then you will be the first to know.
First up: pakoras made with “chicken” Quorn. I pulled apart the battered and deep-fried morsel, watching as the “flesh” tore along grain lines in much the same way that real chicken would tear. I dipped the morsel in tamarind chutney and transferred it into my discriminating, salivating, and ready-to-be-masticating maw. And it was chicken, dammit! Chicken texture, chicken taste, chicken aftertaste...truly impressive.
And I’m a tough customer when it comes to food substitutes. Don’t get me started on “tofurky.” The tofurky-eater, wishing to give the appearance of eating meat without actually doing so, betrays a deeply ingrained sense of inadequacy at not eating meat.
Anyway, I kept an open mind that day at Tipu’s—and an open mouth. Next came the Kheema Masala, which contained the “minced meat” variety of Quorn, plus baby potatoes and peas in a ginger tomato base. It had the unmistakable flavor and texture of ground beef, but without the heavy feeling afterward. Sorry I don’t have anything controversial to report, dear reader, such as “it had the texture of #2 plastic and tasted like unseasoned cardboard.” Actually, the stuff tasted really good. Just spare me the Quorn-dogs, and I’m into it.
But here is something controversial for you, another side to the story. Not so much a dark side perhaps as a shade of gray, food for thought, if you will.
It seems that Marlow Foods, the company that makes Quorn, advertises their fungal product as “mushroom in origin.” However, Fusarium gramineurum is not a mushroom. All mushrooms are fungi, yes, but not all fungi are mushrooms. Hence, The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C. is urging the FDA to stop Marlow from engaging in what they consider a “deceptive labeling” practice. CSPI also questions the adequacy of the product’s testing, which does not include tests for allergens. There are also rumors that certain cattle associations are plotting to challenge Quorn on similar grounds, allegedly out of fear that the great taste and less filling Quorn could threaten their bovine-based business.
With so many questions facing the potential Quorn-sumer, Chef Boy Ari can only recommend eating your way to the truth. Painless, bloodless, light, lean Quorn. Whatever it is, it’s brucellosis free—and, in a growing number places in town, it’s what’s for dinner.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari at: flash@ missoulanews.com