Mealworm study: Are insects as nutritious as milk protein?
02 Jun 2021 --- With commercial pathways opening up following a recent regulatory approval in the EU, mealworm proteins are growingly recognized as a source for highly sustainable and quality protein. And now, according to new research by the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, the novel food source is as nutritionally beneficial as the “gold standard” dairy protein.
Protifarm, a Dutch agri-tech company and member of the natural insect protein coalition Ÿnsect, provided its Buffalo mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus) for this research. Both mealworm and milk proteins have been found to have the same performance on digestion, absorption and the ability to stimulate muscle production.
Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, Tom Mohrmann, CEO at Protifarm, shares his insights on the fledgling industry and its early adoption strategies.
“Similar to what we have seen with other food trends – such as plant-based meats and dairy alternatives – we see small brands disrupting the current landscape and acting as a catalyst for change within the ‘mainstream’ sport nutrition or meat alternatives industries,” Mohrmann details.
“Paradoxically, for new trends to move into mainstream adoption, we believe small brands require the scale and marketing power of the big food companies,” he continues. “We saw this within the plant-based sphere – big food companies acquiring smaller brands, investing in them and/or subsequently developing their own offerings.”
Reframing insect-based messaging
To stimulate broader consumer acceptance, Mohrmann stresses that it all begins with reframing the message. “The further insects are transformed from their original shape and appearance, the more easily we will accept it. For instance, we have soluble concentrates as well as pure oil and interesting emulsions resulting from our processing steps.”
Eventually, insect ingredients are expected to branch out from traditional formats like pasta, into more technical applications, such as mayonnaise made with an insect-based water-fat component.
“Once people overcome the ‘yuck factor’ – neophobia when trying a new food that reduce with repeated consumption – they are far more likely to want to eat insect again,” Anaïs Maury, director of communications and public affairs at Ÿnsect, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“In a study of Western European consumers, 88 percent of people that already ate insect were interested in buying this kind of product against 45 percent within those who never tried.”
“At this stage in market development, Mohrmann notes the highest potential for insect proteins in North West Europe and North America, as well as Asian countries (Thailand, Japan) and South America (Mexico) that adapt more easily to these novel ingredients from a cultural heritage.
EU member states recently greenlighted French biotech company Agronutris for the marketing of its yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) products intended for human consumption, making it the first company to be authorized to sell food-grade insects on the European market.
Ÿnsect has submitted a file for the same novel food authorization for its Buffalo mealworm and is presently awaiting approval.
The new “gold standard” protein?
Milk protein – consisting of 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey – is often perceived as an ideal protein source. However, dairy demand has been fronted by the conscious eating trend, which continues to narrow consumers’ focus on the environmental credentials of milk.
In recent months, investors across the foodscape have channeled funds into scaling up unique dairy alternatives, such as cell-based and fermented solutions.
study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reveals that mealworm protein contains all nine essential amino acids and is efficiently digested in the human body.Building on these food-tech developments, the new Maastricht University
“We used a unique isotope labeling approach to prove rapid digestion and effective stimulation of muscle protein synthesis following the ingestion of Buffalo mealworm. The observed response did not differ from the ingestion of a similar amount of milk protein,” elaborates Dr. Luc van Loon, lead researcher.
In contrast, industry’s most popular alternative protein source – plant-based proteins – often have incomplete amino acid profiles and low levels of the essential amino acids, notes Ÿnsect.
“Until today there was no proper high-quality ingredient available apart from insect flour, resulting in poor quality products,” Mohrmann comments. “Ÿnsect’s AdalbaPro Fiber Textured Insect Protein (FTIP) food ingredient line offers technical functionality, like texture, binding or solubility.”
AdalbaPro offers tailored solutions for the categories of meat alternatives, bakery, savory and beverages. “The higher quality ingredients with broader applications will result in higher quality end products, stronger propositions resulting in a broader acceptance of using ingredients made from insects,” says Mohrmann.
Early adopters of bug-based food
The term “entovegans” has emerged in industry parlance as a term referring to the general consumer demographic of consumers of meat alternatives with a high acceptance rate for insect-based ingredients.
“We see the largest opportunity within the category of performance nutrition, which involves the activities of sport, recovery and elderly nutrition,” Mohrmann remarks. “Insect-based proteins and nutrients can help exercisers gain body strength and supplement them in their diets.”
“Close to this opportunity is, of course, the alternative dairy space, growing fast and offering enormous potential. Today, this is mostly offered by plant-based products with strong off tastes and poor digestibility.”
There is an additional opportunity found among consumers who enjoy exploring and discovering new food experiences. “It’s all about foodies seeking adventurous novel food with a zest for life, such as creatives and Gen Z individuals.”
“These are early adopters that can be approached with different products using different ingredients, like new meat alternatives and protein enriched products like pastas or granolas. Concepts focusing on this group traditionally do well.”
According to Ÿnsect-cited research, 60 percent of consumers in Western Europe showed an interest for sport nutrition products containing insect protein. The analysis was based on more than 1,000 people in France, Germany and in the UK.
Meanwhile, separate analysis by Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, US, has similarly forecasted the weakening stigma surrounding edible bugs in the near future.
Mohrmann envisions: “Insects will truly be the next sustainable protein source that matches the quality of dairy and the sustainability of many plant-based alternatives.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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