Scientists at West Virginia University have found a way to isolate protein from insects, paving the way for wider direct human consumption of insect-based food in the near future.
The scientists used a new technique to isolate and determine the nutritional properties of powders made from cricket, locust and silk-worm pupae.
Insect protein powder: the next step on the road to mass human consumption?
The consumption of insect protein is being heavily touted as one way to feed a world whose population is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050.
But while the practice of eating terrestrial insects is widely accepted throughout most of the world, in the West few people find the prospect of eating them appetising.
Researchers and advocates are at pains to point out that most edible terrestrial insects are “cleaner” than crabs, lobsters and shrimp, because they feed on fresh plants and wood instead of carrion.
According to Jacek Jaczynski, professor of food science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, 80% of the global human population already consumes insects, and that Western cultures make up the 20% that do not.
“It’s a minority that doesn’t consume insects,” Jaczynski said. “As the population grows, we’ll have to feed everyone. I don’t say insects will replace our farm animals, but it’s another alternative that seems more sustainable than what we currently do.”
Advocates of insect protein claim it has a number of benefits over traditional animal sources. For example, insect protein can be harvested much faster than a cow or pig and would require less land and water usage as well. In addition, insects have a short lifespan, rapidly reproduce, and require simple and minimal habitat and nutritional requirements.
There are over 2,000 species of insects that have been identified as safe for human consumption, but some species have been more commonly explored than others, said Yong-Lak Park, another of the study’s authors.
“Mealworm and crickets are popular because they’re very easy to mass produce,” Park said.
“So, when we produce insects as human food and animal feed, it should be very easy to mass produce, otherwise it does not justify the cost.”
Meat alternatives: the foods of the future?
Christopher Snowdon’s appearance on GB News alerted many for the first time to the possibility that the government might legislate to prevent them from eating meat
Here are Herculean Strength, we’re always keeping an eye out for new developments in the world of meat alternatives and the supposed “foods of the future”.
If you’re interested in reading more about the news foods that are set to revolutionize the way we eat, check out this awesome article on the subject.
We cover marine algae, edible plastic (!?), synthetic protein and much more.
To make eating the insects more appealing, researchers have suggested turning them into a powder. This method is close to how we already process grains into flour to make them more edible. Insect powders are currently commercially available and can be found in granola bars, tofu and burgers.
But although insect powders are a simple and convenient processing method to increase shelf life, the original composition is likely to limit their applications in food products, which could result in low consumer uptake, according to the authors of the new study.
To attempt to solve the problem of composition, Jaczynski, Park and the other researchers found that protein can be efficiently isolated from insects using pH-solubility-precipitation, resulting in isolates with high nutritional and functional quality.
Proteins, just like sugar and salt, dissolve in water. However, protein solubility depends on the pH of a solution that the protein is in.
“Depending on the pH of a protein solution, protein solubility can be turned on or off, sort of like a light switch, so that protein can dissolve or precipitate (no solubility),” Jaczynski said.
Precipitation is the opposite of solubility. When protein dissolves in a solution, it visually disappears from that solution, just like sugar or salt, while when protein precipitates, it visually re-appears, according to Jaczynski.
“With insects, our point is to selectively extract those nutrients, like proteins and lipids,” Jaczynski said.
“Grains have been around for ages, and they were totally accepted by all populations,” Jaczynski continued. “Why don’t we use insects with the same kind of model on a high level as a source of nutrients? We have to find a way to extract and isolate high quality nutrients and develop prototypes that will jive well with our taste buds.”
“Foods of the future”: will we have a choice?
Readers are likely to ask, though, whether such ersatz foodstuffs will remain a consumer choice in future years, or whether they will be forced on consumers, either through legislation or artificial scarcity, as an alternative to traditional foodstuffs, especially meat and animal-products.
As we wrote in a recent article on the British government’s new National Food Strategy, a wide-ranging evaluation of the United Kingdom’s “food security” in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union, in 2016, “the age of dietary choice may very swiftly be coming to an end.”
At the governmental level, this is signalled by the looming threat of “meat taxes” – narrowly avoided in the National Food Strategy’s final report, but still a future possibility – and an increasing recognition among legislators that people cannot be allowed to continue to consume meat at anything near present levels.
Christopher Snowdon, a journalist who heads the Lifestyle Economics unit at London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, even went so far as to say, during a televised interview, that “the political reality is that Boris Johnson is going to have to stop advising people to fly less and eat less red meat and find ways of forcing people.”
A recent survey showed that a massive 73% of Australian men would rather shave ten years off their lives than give up meat. In the face of such stiff opposition, what chance do consent-based options to reduce or eliminate meat consumption have?
At the commercial level, companies such as Oatly and other plant-based brands are resorting to increasingly manipulative tactics to shame consumers into stopping buying animal-based food products.
In doing so, they are bolstered by scientific research which shows that claims about the taste and health benefits of plant-based animal-product alternatives fall flat with consumers, and that ‘social pressure’ is a much more effective way to get them to give up their favourite foods.
Oatly’s “Help Dad” campaign is a particularly unsavoury example of this new shame-based advertising, featuring ‘woke’ teenagers berating their ‘unenlightened’ fathers for wanting to drink cow’s milk instead of a ‘milk’ slurry of oats, sugar and vegetable oil, which we’ve called ‘one of the worst things you can eat.’
Expect the pressure to be ramped up in the coming months and years.
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