Why make foods containing insects?
The term entomophagy — the practice of eating insects — may initially sound strange but eating insects is no longer a simple practice, it’s a rapidly growing industry and its subsequent health and environmental benefits all the more appetising.
Humans have been eating insects for thousands of years and are integrated into the diets of more than 2 billion people today so it’s hardly new. Western food markets, however, have long excluded insects from their selections, opting for animal-based protein. Insects are becoming a more formidable force in the global protein industry as climate change pressures increase and health and environmental concerns become more important to consumers. According to the United Nations, the market for edible insects might be worth $6.3 billion by 2030, implying that bug-based foods may become a popular addition to your table.
Considering the rising world population and the scarce water and land resources, it is extremely important to find new and sustainable ways to produce food. Insects such as crickets produce 80 times less methane than cattle whilst providing a protein source with a high feed-conversion efficiency rate. They also require much less water, feed, space, housing and overall maintenance than traditional protein sources such as poultry or cattle. By modifying western diets, it’s possible to combat climate change by lowering environmental impacts while also being economically responsible in a more sustainable fashion. Health benefits of insect consumption include their high antioxidant power and chitinous fibre content, as well as the upside of a higher protein content, a well-balanced amino acid spectrum, a high amount of lipid, and a noteworthy content of micronutrients such as copper, zinc, and iron in whichever food they are added to.
How foods containing insects will be introduced
Although it may appear to be a revolting concept, insect protein has long been used in the agriculture business as livestock feed and crop fertiliser. In reality there are about 1,900 species utilised for food. Regulators in the European Union also gave their approval for it to be used for human consumption in 2020. The Asia-Pacific region has long been the dominant market for edible insects. Now, whilst large corporations such as Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Mars and PepsiCo are slowly stepping into the industry by conducting R&D, small, agile, risk-taking start-ups have been blazing the trail and expanding their reach across the globe. Whilst not an easy industry to get established in, as insect farming becomes more autonomous, insect-protein prices are expected to become more competitive with animal protein.
We need a solution that keeps the agricultural footprint and industrial waste to a minimum while food production keeps up with the rising population's need. As a result, we must alter our eating habits. The challenge lies in introducing insect protein into the Western diet. Misconceptions about insects are one barrier that manufacturers are attempting to overcome. Because insects are regarded as pests in the Western culture, it may be difficult to persuade consumers to switch just by presenting them with the idea of insects as a raw material. The workaround is to present the ingredient in a form that is acceptable to the public - one that does not resemble the creatures. This has to begin with ingredient replacement in existing foods, examples of which are bakery, snacks and meat products, as these act to familiarise consumers with insect-based food. Consumers tastes evolve through time. It's likely that the younger generation will be targeted, as they can spread the word and increase acceptability and adoption. It's all about coming up with ways to make food more nutritious, enticing, and easier to consume.
What insects are we likely to see first in food?
The most commonly used insects in mainstream products are crickets and mealworms. Both have a mild umami taste that can be masked when stronger flavours are added. Mealworms, which are native in Europe, have protein levels and an amino acid profile that’s similar to beef. Crickets have remained the most popular insect protein because the novelty factor of eating one of the insects is still high, along with their wide availability as an ingredient. Crickets are also used because of the quality of protein while the black soldier fly shows promise in terms of efficiency and speed in conversion. Black ants are apparently the easiest insect to pair with lemon or lime flavours due to their citrusy taste.
Insect-containing products are gaining more space in the market. Traditionally thought of with dismay among Western consumers, there is a growing interest in using insects in everything from snacks to protein powder. A short while ago there were a lot of gimmicky products around. Now, because there is heightened demand from serious consumers looking for new and more sustainable proteins to try, companies that sell insect products no longer need to advertise it as a freakish novelty item. Back in December 2019, Roberts Bakery in Norwich were the first UK bakery to launch a loaf of bread containing cricket flour. The uptake from other bakeries has been slow in the UK; customers take some convincing before they overcome their trepidation to eat insects.
Texture problems associated with foods containing insects
Bakery products are one of the most promising since the added ground insects can enhance not only the nutritional quality of the dough, but technological parameters and sensory properties of the final products. Muffins, for example, are one of the most popular high-calorie snack products consumed worldwide. As a response to growing consumer interest in healthy nutrition, the food industry is increasingly focused on designing foods with reduced sugar content. Insects can be used as a matrix for the introduction of various nutrients, such as protein and antioxidants. The use of protein enrichment, on one hand, reduces the sugar content of the product, but, on the other hand, it may also have a significant impact on its textural properties.
The texture of a bakery product can be altered after the addition of insect ingredients, particularly when they are there to replace something else. Biscuit hardness might change; dough properties can be affected or final product volume may be altered. All of these properties can be measured.
There are spicy scorpions as street food in parts of China; fried termites in western Kenya; curried dragonflies in Indonesia; beetle larvae in parts of Cameroon; wok-fried tarantulas or silkworms in Cambodia; and sauce-drenched mopane worms in rural Zimbabwe. In Mexico, crispy grasshoppers are served with lime and chilli. However, successful introduction of insect consumption to a reluctant Western population requires novel insect-based foods that are responsive to consumers’ expectations of sensory quality. The snack industry is more welcoming of fun and enticing experiences and if consumers are accepting to try, what better textural novelty comes from adding crickets to enhance crunch or mealworms to impart chewiness to a snack product?
The use of edible insects to replace meat protein is important to ensure future global food security. However, another solution is to reduce the amount of meat in a processed meat product and incorporate edible insects. The effect of texture on, in particular, an emulsified meat product would be minimised but would still require development to enhance consumer perception.?
Alternative insect-based meat products have already existed in European markets like Switzerland or Germany, but these are made of 100% insect meat or with additional vegetables as an ingredient. The acceptance of insect-based burgers depends on many factors (e.g., traditions, age, and gender), but the key factors are texture and taste. The acceptance could be increased if the non-traditional food ingredients were mixed with traditional foods, to provide consumers with the “same-as” eating experience.
Petfood and animal feed
For people who are not comfortable eating them directly, insects still have a role to play in addressing climate change and making agriculture more sustainable. Using insects as a feed source is a lot less costly for the environment than traditional feeds. It’s also less likely to evoke the ‘yuk’ factor than people directly consuming them.
However, unlike our farm animals, our pets may be all too fussy to switch unless the palatability of the new petfood is up to their liking. As the purchaser of their food, consumers loyalty is affected when the pet finds their new food not to their liking. Whilst it would not be clear whether that was due to taste or texture, the right food texture should be high on a formulators list of priorities. This is when you need to compare the texture of original ‘well liked’ petfoods with their insect-containing counterpart to see whether you have created a textural match.
How Texture Analysis can help in development of foods containing insects
Texture Analysis is a mandatory stage in the Research and Development of insect-incorporated food products, when texture can be altered by the addition of different quantities of ingredients, and must be measured after each iteration of ingredient or process modifications. Stable Micro Systems manufactures instruments that measure the tensile and compressional properties of raw ingredients, individual materials and finished products. It is important to measure the textural properties of food to ensure they match the expectations of a consumer. As with any manufacturing innovation, a large amount of research takes place during development, but the end product must also go through a quality control process to assess its mechanical (and sensorial) properties. A Texture Analyser is a crucial part of this procedure, giving a reliable way to test products by applying a choice of compression, tension, extrusion, adhesion, bending or cutting tests to measure their physical or textural properties e.g. firmness, stickiness, crispiness and bite force, to name but a few.
A range of Texture Analysers are available varying in maximum force capacity and height options suited to the requirements of the application.
A vast range of probes and fixtures can be attached to the instruments depending upon the product/material to be tested. Whether it’s a multiple puncture rig used to compare burger firmness, a bending test used to assess biscuit fracturability or a Volscan Profiler employed to measure loaf volume affected by bread dough properties. Click to view a wide range of textural properties and measurement solutions for bakery, snacks, meat or petfood product testing.
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Examples of how Texture Analysers have been applied to food containing insects
There have been countless publications of research into the use of insects in the bakery, snacks, meat and petfood/animal feed industries using Texture Analysers, in both academic and industrial settings. Some examples of the most recent research are outlined below.
Research in the bakery industry
Research in the snacks industry
Research in the meat industry
Research in the petfood and animal feed industry
The future of food
With 9.6 billion people forecast to inhabit the planet in 2050, scientists have warned that population growth could lead to an unsustainable increase in food production if consumption patterns persist. There is a need to produce food that is balanced with our resources and feed a growing population with evolving diets. This is why there is now a growing interest in insect protein and how it can be adopted in future food and beverages. To succeed with consumers you will need the help of texture analysis.