Case study: Dr Muyiwa Akintoye

Head of Research and Development, Quorn

"Food research and development is creative and you have to step outside your comfort zone to try outside-the-box ideas. Quorn is where it is now because of someone's creative idea 50 years ago."

My job involves looking for new ways to make meat-free food. What I do is not very different to what most people do in their kitchen at home: our ‘kitchen’ is just on a much bigger scale. My team researches new ingredients and processes to combine them with mycoprotein to make Quorn products. Quorn is now developing more vegan foods: replacing egg white with plant protein, while maintaining the texture, is not easy.

It’s important that what we do positively impacts people’s lives and the planet. Meat production is one of the biggest greenhouse gas contributors, but replacing meat is challenging because eating meat is cultural and the human body can draw nutrients from it. We want to make it easy for people to reduce their meat consumption without compromising on the meals they eat. There’s recognition that we need to change something to reduce long term damage to the planet. If we can work together to solve meat overconsumption, and unsustainable usage of land, water and raw materials, everyone wins. 

We use science to make Quorn products and our teams have several trained food technologists, biotechnologists (making mycoprotein) and engineers (designing and building manufacturing plants). Product development is particularly creative – there’s a creative leap to get mycoprotein’s ‘toothpaste’ texture to chew like meat. You have to step outside your comfort zone and we are constantly trying new ideas. The invention of mycoprotein came from an outside-the-box idea to use microorganisms to create protein. We are where we are today because of someone’s creative idea 50 years ago.

At school in Nigeria I faced a dilemma. My favourite subjects were chemistry and literature, but I had to choose between arts and sciences. My entire career has revolved around food, and I pretty much always knew what I wanted to do. I studied Food Technology at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, then did an MSc and PhD in food. Before being employed by Quorn, I worked at a breakfast cereal company in the UK.

One of my projects was to evaluate raw materials, so tracking the effect of raw ingredients on the finished product was right up my street. As part of my degree I spent three to six months in industry every year. This was a great opportunity to try out different sectors. Friends from my course have done all sorts of jobs, so your degree doesn’t restrict your options. Learning scientific method is useful, and you can always retrain.