Tastes of Better will see a stellar line-up of speakers come together for a series of trends panels on what’s new and next in food formulation. Among them is the plant-based pioneer Stu Henshall, Director of Culinary Innovation at the UK’s number one meat-free brand, Quorn.

We sat down with Stu to discuss his role as a plant-based tastemaker and explore everything from ultra-processed meat analogues to the role of chefs in promoting sustainable eating patterns. Keep reading to hear why fermentation has him bubbling with excitement.

Why has Quorn achieved consumer acceptance where others have struggled? 

It’s fascinating to think about how Quorn has woven itself into the fabric of daily meals, from shepherd’s pie to Bolognese, especially among those who might have once been sceptical of plant-based options. This acceptance didn’t happen overnight; it’s the result of a journey that started 60 years ago, with our first product making its debut in 1985.

Our products resonate because they’re not just meat-free; they’re born from a relentless focus on sustainable supply and creation. It’s this blend of nostalgic comfort and modern responsibility that sets Quorn apart, making us a trusted choice for families seeking both tradition and change on their dinner plates.

What role do chefs have to play in mainstreaming sustainable eating patterns?  

Chefs are like the storytellers of the culinary world, taking simple ingredients and transforming them into narratives that captivate our senses. Their craft is reminiscent of age-old traditions where resourcefulness turned the inedible into the edible, much like Aboriginal peoples with certain roots.

“Our products resonate because they’re not just meat-free; they’re born from a relentless focus on sustainable supply and creation.”

Today, as we explore new frontiers like insect protein and cultured meat, chefs’ creativity becomes key in making these options not just palatable but desirable. They show us the art of possibility, blending tradition and innovation on our plates, making sustainability an integral part of the delicious meals we enjoy.

Public suspicion of “ultra-processed” foods is running high in Britain. How do you see this shaping the food and beverage landscape? 

The dialogue around ultra-processed foods is a nuanced one, particularly in the plant-based sector. The label of “ultra-processed” can sometimes overshadow the conversation without considering the context of each ingredient’s role and its benefits.

Many everyday items, from bread to soups, carry this label, yet what’s crucial is understanding the balance and intention behind each product. At Quorn, we aim for clarity and purpose in our ingredients, focusing on how they contribute to both nutrition and sustainability. It’s about fostering a thoughtful approach to what we consume and how it aligns with our values.

Could you share a flavour or cuisine trend that you’re particularly excited about for 2024? 

Looking ahead, I’m genuinely excited about the potential that fermentation holds for the future of food. Our work with mycoprotein through biomass fermentation is just the beginning. Traditional fermentation techniques are undergoing a renaissance, unlocking a treasure trove of flavours and nutritional benefits.

“Traditional fermentation techniques are undergoing a renaissance, unlocking a treasure trove of flavours and nutritional benefits.”

Meanwhile, precision fermentation is paving the way for sustainable alternatives to animal-derived ingredients. This blend of ancient wisdom and modern technology is the finest example of how the human story continues to evolve through food.

How would you respond to those who say there’s too much focus on meat mimicry in the plant-based sector? 

The conversation around meat alternatives versus vegetable-centric dishes reflects the rich tapestry of personal preferences and dietary choices. Enjoying the taste and experience of meat doesn’t exclude the appreciation for vibrant, vegetable-filled dishes. It’s not about sacrifice but about choice.

Having options like Quorn and Cauldron allows us to navigate this spectrum, offering everything from comforting meat-free alternatives to dishes that celebrate vegetables in their full glory. It’s about providing a range that meets various desires and needs, making sustainable eating an accessible and enjoyable choice for everyone.

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In conversation with Quorn Culinary Director Stu Henshall