Insects & Processed Food

Mealworms

Mealworms are prepared for human consumption

Insects are under investigation as potential sources of protein for animal and human diets. Western cultures are reluctant to eat insects, despite the popularity of many of their crustacean cousins (Think shrimp.). However, insects can be processed into flour that is indistinguishable from flour from other sources when casually viewed or mixed into other foods.

Proteins can be extracted from mealworms using simple food processing techniques*. The protein content of yellow mealworms is about 75% and is rich in essential amino acids. The mild flavor of mealworm protein can be readily overwhelmed by strong flavors of other ingredients. Taste tests show that most people are unable to differentiate between products that contain mealworm flour and those that do not. Will consumption of insects and insect protein be more accepted if the only way to tell that a product contains insect protein is the fine print on the package?

*Zhao X, Vázquez-Gutiérrez JL, Johansson DP, Landberg R, Langton M (2016) Yellow Mealworm Protein for Food Purposes – Extraction and Functional Properties. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0147791.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147791

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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One Response to Insects & Processed Food

  1. Don Weber says:

    I think this is a great idea, but others may differ. With our first-world mentality, many of us in the US like to eat very high on the food chain, and no arthropods please, unless they are from the ocean! There’s no logic to these tastes and aversions, just traditions which have no rational basis. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes Nutrition Action Newsletter, and is known as “the food police,” often gives what I consider to be sensible advice on food. However, anything novel or insectan seems to provoke their hysterical side (so much for the “science” part). Two recent examples are their crazed reactions to cochineal coloring and mycoprotein, derived from fungi and used to make the fake meat branded “Quorn.” So, it would be useful to engage this powerful gadfly to remind them and the public that (1) people have been knowingly eating insects for millennia; (2) modern people eat many insects unknowingly with absolutely no ill effects (probably more in organic produce; (3) the FAO and others advocate insects as a healthy and environmentally desirable source of nutrients, particularly protein (so, it’s politically correct, as well as nutritionally desirable!).

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