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Bric-a-Brac: K is for...


Disclaimer: probably no actual Kesp pictured.The 1970s was the decade when, in many cases, what was previously only science fiction became science. (Or, if you were an especially dim journalistic bulb, ‘science fact’. Well, it sounds punchier, doesn’t it? Like saying ‘Dad’s Army telly’ or ‘football sport’.) Inevitably, as soon as those utopian schemes leapt from the pages of Boys Own annuals into society at large, they started looking a bit less ‘gee whiz’ and a bit more ‘ooh, Christ!’ Computers went from debonair robot butlers and all-knowing superbrains to being ominous causes of mass unemployment and ‘that thing from the council that chewed up your rates rebate’ in seconds. Likewise, a future spent merrily munching on soya products instead of nasty old Stone Age stuff like beef and chicken seemed a tad less appetising once various textile – yes, textile -businesses, with the blessing of windmilling nutritionist Magnus Pyke, actually started churning the stuff out. Fabric merchants Courtauld’s knitted strands of amino acids together like they were so much polyester to form Courtauld’s Edible Spun Protein, or ‘Kesp’, which went on the supermarket shelves and sold like… well, like signed photos of Reginald Maudling, to be honest. Undeterred, Courtauld’s – allegedly – did a deal with the government of the time and off-loaded a consignment of the unloved un-food into the nation’s school dinners. If this ever did happen, the offending stuff was probably got through in a matter of months, but the rumour persisted for a good decade afterwards that the mince in that rectangular slice of minced beef pie was something not of this world, when in reality it was a perfectly natural lump of inedible gristle.



  1. Ade

    March 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Kesp…. My dad worked for Courtaulds and could buy tins of kesp cheap at the company shop. Very cheap I guess as we virtually lived on the stuff for a while. I actually liked it better than real mince- stronger ‘meat’ taste probably due to all the additives. Found out later I was allergic to all things mushroom so was wondering if there was a mushroom element to kesp? Did get a lot of upset stomachs when I was a kid – didn’t get sweets or chips or fizzy drinks much, home made stuff plus kesp!

  2. Peter Jeynes

    January 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    KESP was produced at the old Development Fibres plant on Foleshill Road in Coventry. There were no mushrooms in the product as the basic ingredient was the Field Bean. Far more scary were the artificial cigarettes that were produced in a different part of the same building. These were called, if I remember correctly, Planets. They were truly out of this world.

  3. Dom

    December 6, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for this. I was telling my partner today, that my school used to serve KESP cottage pie in the 70s – and then I wondered whether I imagined it.

    For some reason, I thought the K stood for ‘knitted’: Knitted Edible Spun Protein (?) – but I’ve no evidence of this.

  4. Graham Johnson

    February 25, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    I attended Ash Green High School in Exhall, Coventry from 1974 to 1978. We were fed KESP in our school dinners, mostly in shepherds pie. It had a strange taste, To this day I can’t face soya protein foods.

  5. Stephen Taylor

    June 25, 2021 at 10:22 am

    I remember being served KESP pie in 73 – 74 at St. Edmund Arrowsmith High School in the Wigan area. To be honest it tasted much like the other school food served up. To be honest, in those days you are what you got and queued up for seconds.

  6. Chris

    December 31, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    I remember getting Kesp at school in the 1970s in Leigh, Lancashire. We were given a leaflet explaining what it was and as far as I remember there was only 10% KESP added to real meat.

    I can’t say it tasted any different to the usual school dinner mince.

  7. Seter Philton

    May 12, 2022 at 8:06 pm

    Lanchester Polytechnic used to serve up KESP to the students at Priory Hall.

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