What’s the difference between different insect proteins and which will be the most viable for consumers?
It used to be that animal protein was a luxury that we could afford ourselves occasionally, however in recent years, with the advent of industrial agriculture, eating animal protein has become the norm and consumption is dramatically increasing yearly. In America alone, people are eating 198 pounds of meat per person per year.
As these numbers grow, it seems unforeseeable that we will be able to depend on livestock alone to meet the market demand for protein. This means that we will have to be open to alternative sources of protein, and of those insects seem one of the most viable.
Although, still taboo in the western world, according to the FAO Edible Insects: Future Prospects and Feed Security , twenty percent of the world’s population is already consuming insects.
Insects, unlike there other meat counterparts, are often higher in protein. Insects produce 1kg of protein for 2kg of food, whereas cattle need 8kg of food for every kilogram of protein they produce. They require a fraction natural resources that livestock require, while often providing more protein, vitamins and essential amino acids to the human body.
With over 30 startups in the United States exploring the insect protein landscape, and more and more startups around the world investing in insect protein alternatives, it’s important to know which insects are the most viable and how they will be used. Here are the top three insects that are being cultivated and what they mean for the future of food.
Since crickets and grasshoppers are plentiful and they move in swarms, they are the most highly consumed insect protein in the world. A 3.5-ounce serving of raw grasshoppers contains between 14 and 28 grams of protein and is rich in calcium and iron. Cricket protein is very subtle in flavor, so it is easy to manipulated, therefore it can easily be used in dishes. Crickets have a 6-week life cycle, therefore they have fast turnover rate to extract the protein.
Some of the problems with harvesting crickets is that they require a high protein feed, namely chicken feed, which means that they are vulnerable to rising prices and they are more expensive to feed than other insects. Due to the small, warm environment, in high density farms, disease or inbreeding could spread, which greatly effects production. Companies such as Aspire Food Group and Aketta are working closely with crickets to learn under which conditions they grow the safest and produce the greatest yield.
Fruit fly larvae
Fruit fly larvae is another insect protein being harvested for human consumption. Since fruit fly larvae feed on organic waste and produce a great amount of animal protein, they are one of the most environmentally friendly insect proteins. Furthermore, they are rich in iron, potassium, copper and zinc and they have no cholesterol and less fat than traditional protein. They grow in temperate climates and have a life span of only 1 week. Fruit flies are self cleaning and self harvesting, therefore, the inputs for fruit fly is low compared to other insects.
The current issue with fruit fly larvae is that production costs may be high and it has never been produced for mass consumption, therefore it’s not clear yet if production can meet market demand. Fruit flies, unlike crickets are not consumed whole, therefore realistically they will only be consumed in powder form and as a protein supplement in various foods on the market. Currently Flying Spark is the only food tech startup that is working to improve the yields and production of fruit fly larvae and developing products for the consumer m
Maggots are another insect protein that are being harvested as an alternative protein. Maggots are best for animal feed because they are high in sulfur, feed on waste, and are fifteen percent cheaper then traditional animal feed. Maggots are perfect organic livestock feed because they contain lots of amino acids that organic poultry require.
Currently, organic poultry farmers are feeding fish feed, which is completely unsustainable. Maggots are a truly formidable alternative, as they provide livestock with the necessary sulfur, protein and amino acids, without harmfully effecting sea life. When BioConval did a study testing maggot feed for poultry, they found that giving chickens 2-3 live maggots per day, had the higher growth rates than chickens being fed fish feed. Some of the issues with maggot protein is the risk of infection from manure, therefore they require lots of sanitation. Maggots, although not suitable for human consumption, can be a very formative protein for livestock.
*Featured Photo: Creative Commons Photo Courtesy of Zoran Ozetski