The growing global population is placing an increased demand for protein from livestock (poultry, fish, pigs and cattle), which is causing concern and future challenges. Moreover, finding an economically viable food to feed an ever-increasing population, especially in nations with severe poverty, has become more urgent than ever before.
Human impact on the environment has never been more telling than over the past 10 years. Drought, flooding and wildfires are all sure signs that the world is quickly changing, and the impact of these raise the importance of food sustainability and production.
Meeting these two driving factors in the race for human survival, while maintaining the consumers’ acceptance of the final product is vital.
For the past four years, my research has explored the viability of bread products fortified with cricket protein powder, which can be used as part of a balanced diet. More so, it has looked into consumer acceptance and perception as the main driving force for product integration within a culture.
The practice of consuming insects
Entomophagy (the practise of consuming insects) can be promoted as an alternative and sustainable food source.
The argument of insects as a direct food source is based on the high feed conversion efficiency of the individual insect species. For example, crickets require only 2kg of feed for every 1kg of body weight gain. By comparison, conventional meat such as beef requires 25kg of feed for every 1kg of body weight.
An added benefit, insects can be reared on organic side-streams – including human and animal food waste – and can reduce environmental contamination. Insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than livestock and require significantly less land and water than cattle rearing.
Although there are around 1,900 edible insect species globally, these are mainly consumed in developing countries due to their ease of access and nutritional composition. Crickets, for instance, are high in protein, fat, fibre and low in carbs. This offers a potential solution to end hunger and improve health of the global population, aligned to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
There is a growing interest in the consumption of insects and an ongoing initiative to encourage Western consumers to accept insects as alternative protein source is a continuous drive. While most react to novel foods with disgust and rejection, recent research shows consumer acceptance is on the rise.
Overcoming the ‘icky’ factor
The challenge for the baking industry, however, is the allowable use of cricket protein powder within bread products in such a way as to be acceptable to the consumer.
My research indicated that cricket protein powder is beneficial for human diets when incorporated within baked products and can produce a relatively nutritious product. Still, a combination of cricket protein powder, ancient grains, pseudocereals and seeds was more favourably accepted by Western consumers.
A prototype featuring this mix gave the perception of a healthy baked product and is suitable for consumers who need either high protein, fat and fibre within their diet. It is also ideal for diabetics or consumers trying to reduce carbohydrates within their diet.
As the global population increases, consumers within low- and middle- income categories could be more receptive to products produced with novel ingredients, such as cricket protein powder. Although projections are uncertain and under constant review, factors affecting the population growth and drivers for the food system will have non-linear effects. For example, in Africa alone, the population is projected to double from one billion to an approximate two billion by 2050. Insects could be a vital part of relief programmes throughout the continent, as well as other parts of the world.
Solution for both developing and developed countries
Many food supply systems today are unsustainable as they create pressure points within the food chain. These mainly affect the environment, often resulting in deforestation, destruction of biodiversity and soil erosion due to land cultivation.
As the world’s population continues to grow, the planet faces growing food scarcity and insecurity concerns, especially when it comes to animal protein and its cost to the environment. In areas where food insecurity is prominent – around 70 countries worldwide – fortified blended food products with insects can be the answer.
Furthermore, the associated ‘protein halo effect’ can be used by food producers to appeal to more health-conscious consumers.
With the micronutrient advantages of baked products fortified with cricket protein powder, it won’t be long before crickets will be considered a standard food source within Western society.