Microorganisms have long been used in the elaboration of foods for human consumption. Practically, every civilization has developed fermentation processes of one sort or another as the basis of their culinary traditions. However, the culture of microorganisms as a source of nourishment, rather than as food transformers, came with the advent of industrial fermentation technology. The first recognition of the value of surplus brewer's yeast as a feeding supplement for animals by Max Delbrück (1910) was rapidly followed by the production of yeast for food during the ensuing First World War. The novel microbial foods may not have appealed to the conservative human palate, but this drawback was vastly outweighed by the logistic advantage of a high productivity of aerobic fermentations in relatively compact installations. This overriding feature motivated military strategists to draw plans to produce large amounts of yeast and fungal biomass during, as well as between, the two World War periods. The cessation of open worldwide hostilities in the second half of the 20th century could have meant an end to interest in microbial protein production for food. However, new preoccupations regarding malnutrition in third world countries, or political and economic isolation, as in the case of the Soviet Union and China, maintained the scope of microbial fermentations as a practical solution for the production of food, at least in emergency situations.
Spectacular developments in the field of agriculture, later accompanied by important changes in international relations leading to the opening of the world food markets, overshadowed the worries of limited food supplies. This rapid development rendered mass microbial food production uncompetitive against traditional agricultural food crops, which became readily available at comparatively lower prices. This fact also led to a progressive decline in Single Cell Protein research studies in the literature (Ugalde and Castrillo 2002).
Notwithstanding this decline, biomass production technologies evolved away from microbial protein as bulk food, towards new specialities, leading to a new revitalization in the field (Figure 1). Examples of this are a wide range of food flavors and aromas produced by Burns Philp Food and Fermentation group (http://www.bpfoods.com), and yeast products directed to human and animal consumption by Lallemand Inc (http://www.lallemand.com). Most notable example of the evolution of microbial biomass into new products is perhaps that led by Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) in cooperation with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), founding Marlow Foods (now part of the AstraZeneca group), a company which started producing mycoprotein and related products under the commercial trademark Quorn™ (http://www.quorn.com). This company produces fungal biomass from Fusarium venenatum (formerly F. graminearum) in continuous culture and the resulting product is manipulated to achieve a texture and taste which are reminiscent of meat products, covering a market as a meat alternative for vegetarian formulations. The mycoprotein production process experienced an evolution of 20 years and an estimated Research and Development expenditure of $40 million, before unrestricted clearance by the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Foods was granted in 1985. Quorn products are currently the only fungal-based products
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exclusively directed at human consumption in the market. In this review, we intend to highlight the most important developments that have taken place in the production and use of mycoprotein, defined here as "microbial protein produced from microscopic fungi," with mention of other specialities. The study includes relevant examples already present in the market and others, which have only been registered as patents. We will also conduct an exercise in determining what future lay ahead for mycoprotein and related products.
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