Food technology

Innovation in food tech could help bring insect meal to your pantry

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insects could be a key factor in ensuring future global food security. This may sound unconventional to someone unaccustomed to entomophagy or the human consumption of insects, but introducing insects into your diet has both health and environmental benefits. There’s even research that suggests eating crickets is good for your gut microbiota.

But what’s the best way to add insects to your food? Researchers from the Food Process Engineering team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany are working to perfect the incorporation of insects into baked goods, particularly bread production.

Specifically, they are studying how extrusion processing affects the functional properties of pulverized mealworm larvae and how they can make these properties more suitable for use in baking. Mealworm larvae powder can be incorporated into wheat flour to create an insect meal, but the different protein and fat content of the insects changes the dough and can alter the final product.

In many parts of the world, including Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, insects are already an established food source. People who live in these areas who have already adopted eating insects often eat them whole, but studies have shown that processing insects helps make people from Western cultures who have negative associations with insects more open to eat them. Powdered edible insects suitable for baking are particularly appetizing because they eliminate all visual associations.

Thanks to the increased availability of processed insect powders, the market for edible insects is on the rise globally and is expected to reach a value of $850 million by 2028.

The growing popularity is driven in part by growing public demand for sustainable alternatives to meat protein. In 2018, plant-based food sales topped $3 billion, according to a report by the Plant Based Food Association. Insects are rich in nutrients, especially protein and amino acids, making them a viable alternative to meat. Plus, harvesting them for food has far less impact on the environment than the meat industry – animal production alone is responsible for around 14.5% of Europe’s greenhouse gases. human origin.

The Karlsruhe research group focuses on the extrusion of biopolymer materials, analyzing the extrusion process for food research. Currently, they are analyzing the effect of the process on the physical properties of insect meals. Food extrusion is used in the production of many common foods including pasta, cereals and bread. The extrusion process involves grinding the relevant food material, adding water, and passing it through an extruder. The extruder itself consists of a large rotating screw in a barrel.

Flour’s ability to dissolve, hold water, and its elasticity all impact the baking, taste, and texture of the final product. The researchers’ goal is to make insect flour as similar as possible to traditional bakery flours.

A previous study found that although muffins with cricket powder substituted for wheat flour were higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, the texture and appearance of the final product was impaired, resulting in negative consumer perception. Thus, for insect meals to be widely accepted, similarity to conventional meal is essential.

Researchers are also studying the effect of the extrusion process on enzymes and microbial contaminants in insect meal, which in turn can impact digestibility.

Cooking and sensory testing will be used to help researchers optimize the production process and create a final insect meal formulation.