While alternative proteins are still seen as a niche product segment in the food and beverage industry, innovations are already underway and companies are taking note. Starting with switching from traditional protein sources like milk and meat to vegan alternatives like pea and potato protein, to plant-based variants, there is a wide range of solutions available in the world. the segment. Unfortunately, not all are equally effective.
In addition, there are issues in terms of energy consumption and sustainability. Converting biomass to plant protein uses more resources, which may contribute to the global environmental crisis we face today. It is necessary to produce a balanced diet with our resources and to feed a growing population with evolving diets.
This is why there is now a growing interest in insect proteins and how they can be adopted into future foods and drinks.
The pact with insects
It might sound like a gross idea, but insect protein is not an entirely new concept as the ingredient has been used in the agricultural industry as a feed for livestock and fertilizer for crops. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2.5 billion people already eat insects in the world and around 1,900 species are used for food. EU regulators have also approved its use for human consumption in 2020.
The challenge today is to take this interest to an industrial scale and move to the F&B industry, so that the ingredient can have a wider impact.
One hurdle that companies like Tebrito and Tetra Pak are trying to overcome is misconceptions surrounding bugs. Seen as pests by the Western world, it can be difficult to influence consumers to make the transition with the idea of insects as their raw material alone. The workaround is to offer the ingredient in a format that makes it palatable and doesn’t look like creatures. Additionally, the protein extraction process involves getting the most out of the material, so producers make sure the taste won’t be off-putting and easy to incorporate into the food.
It is through these steps, as well as educating and informing the market about the health benefits of insect proteins, and how the processing and sourcing is safe and qualitative. It is then up to the public to accept, which is not a far-fetched idea as consumer tastes change over time.
In particular, they target the younger generation as they can spread the word for greater acceptance and adoption. It is about putting in solutions that will make food nutritious, attractive and easy to consume.
Excellent alternative to vegetal
Tebrito and Tetra Pak are currently exploring the use of three types of insects. Mealworms, which are native to Europe, have similar protein levels and amino acid profile to beef. Crickets are used because of the protein quality while the black soldier fly shows promise in terms of efficiency and speed of conversion.
Although protein is a necessary nutrient, some people have issues with digestibility and gluten intolerance when consuming traditional protein sources like meat. Insect protein seeks to be a solution for reducing inflammation and also improving gut health. Studies show that they contain fatty acids, omega 3 and 6, and probiotics.
There are also no proven allergic reactions with insect protein and this is because there are already traces of it in the foods we eat. People actually consume 300 to 500 grams of insect particles each year and this build-up is believed to prevent allergies.
Insect processing has the smallest carbon footprint and is the least demanding in the use of natural resources such as water, energy and land. The objective, once the industrialization of this segment has started, is to use the waste streams to convert them into highly digestible insect proteins, with less impact on the environment.
Currently, manufacturing involves working with low impact items such as discarded grain, fruit and vegetable scraps, and organic sludge from the pulp and paper industry and turning them into animal feed. Companies then use it to deploy insect proteins, which, in effect, can potentially promote circularity in waste streams.
It is with industrial solutions rather than consumer driven innovation that really drive sustainability. And this is the vision that companies involved in insect proteins see in the years to come, with bioconversion already being a successful business model. It is up to them to navigate the transition from animal feed to human food, soon making applications in the F&B sector a reality.