On The Rise: Six-Legged Protein

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Most consumers today are looking for healthier and more nutritious food options, and are simultaneously demanding that these be produced by sustainable methods. Among alternative proteins, insects are fast growing worldwide as a nutritious, healthy and sustainable option. By Tudnat Chantathan, managing director, Hiso Edible Insect

Consumers today are becoming more health-conscious and keeping an eye on their daily intakes and engaging in more physical activity in order to both look and feel good. Good nutrition consists of many factors, and particularly with looking good, protein is one of the most important components that, coupled with exercise, tones up muscles to help one look fit. Then, how does one get protein?

Typical sources of protein are meat, chicken, milk and eggs. However, as the population of the world gets richer, the demand for meat will definitely increase, and analysts predict this demand to more than double by 2050. Producing beef, chicken and other similar meats in big quantities will no longer be an ideal way to use our resources to obtain protein.

The Impact Of Meat Production

Current methods of meat production through rearing cattle, poultry, pigs and other animals are actually negatively affecting our environment at this present moment. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), meat production accounts for about five percent of global CO2 emissions, 40 percent of methane emissions, and about 40 percent of various nitrogen oxides. These are all greenhouse gases which contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Also, producing meat through these animals is not very efficient; about 30 percent of pork, 35 percent of chicken, 45 percent of beef and 65 percent of lamb is inedible, and these have to be discarded at meat processing plants.

On top of this, about 100 more times more water is also needed to produce every kilogram of animal protein as compared to the same amount of protein from grain—this could be an unnecessary demand on our finite water resources.

Alternative Proteins In Insects

With more consumers and companies around the world becoming more aware for the need for sustainability, as well as the increase in vegan and vegetarian numbers due to either health or environmental concerns, manufacturers have sought alternative sources of protein in recent years. These include beans, nuts, seeds, soya products and seaweed.

A new source of protein is fast overtaking these in the West, despite the ‘ ick’ factor—insects. Insects have been traditionally consumed in parts of Asia and Southeast Asia, as local snacks and sources of protein. For example, Thailand is a natural source of many kinds of edible insects such as Acheta, chrysalis, silkworms and crickets. Insect consumption in countries like Thailand is a normal part of life, where there are about 2,000 species of edible insects that are considered safe to eat and tasty.

Manufacturers all around the world have started to take an interest in insects, all the more with the savoury tastes and health benefits they provide to better appeal to consumers.

Insects provide comparable or even more protein by weight to more popular options such as turkey and fish. Also, farming insects poses a significantly less impact on the environment than farming animals because they require a lot less feed and water, and do not contribute to the greenhouse gases as aforementioned.

Crickets A Viable Nutritional Alternative

Crickets especially are the growing ‘hot’ ingredient, as powder and flour can be made from them. Crickets typically contain about 5.1 g of carbohydrates, 5.5 g of fats and 12.9 g of protein per every 100 g. In dried cricket powder form, the percentage of protein is even higher, amounting to 69 percent, compared with the lower values of that in sirloin beef (29 percent), dried beef (43 percent), and chicken (31 percent).

In the powder form, crickets provide nutrients in the proportions similar to that of any protein powder, even in terms of the amino acid profile. Comparing cricket powder with typical proteins such as whey and soy isolate, the differences between the three are pretty much insignificant for various amino acids, so cricket powder makes a good alternative for protein powder.

One of the fundamental differences between crickets and any other type of animal is the amount of protein they pack. When you compare with packaged meat, the 12.9 percent protein crickets contain may seem low. However, the size of cows and crickets needs to be taken into consideration.

Cows, though large, have a surprisingly little amount of edible meat; most of the mass is wasted—approximately only 10 percent of usable protein is present in a whole cow. In contrast, crickets comprise of 21 percent of protein by weight, which makes crickets a more viable option for protein than cows.

Other Health Benefits

Insects in general possess high levels of some specific nutrients beneficial for the human body. Data from Iowa University shows that crickets contain 75.8 mg of calcium and 9.5 mg of iron per 100 g—a significant amount of calcium and more than three times the amount of iron you would get from beef of the same weight, and beef is known to be high in iron.

Insects also supply a good dose of vitamin B12, a vitamin that people are commonly deficient in as well as demand for.

Further, insects contain chitin, the characteristic component of the exoskeletons of insects. Chitin is basically a long-chain polymer of an N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of glucose, and although it is still being heavily researched on, studies have suggested that chitin may help with weight loss, cholesterol management, and wound healing, among others.

Environmentally Sustainable

A large advantage insects have over farm animals is the small amount of resources needed to rear them. First is the sheer difference in size of land required to rear them. Crickets would require significantly less space than cattle, and less manpower as well as care.

Next, crickets require around two kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of meat; cattle on the other hand, require about 8 kg of feed to produce the same amount of meat, and only 40 percent of the cow can be consumed.

Water is another resource that is saved on when farming crickets than animals. Insects require minimal water because they take most of their water in via their food—about a gallon of water is required to raise one pound of crickets. In contrast, 2,000 gallons of water is required for a pound of cow. In a world posed with food threats and diminishing water supplies, insects seem to be the growing greener option.

Aforementioned were the statistics of greenhouse gases emitted by meat production, and an in-depth study by FAO actually found that livestock rearing is responsible for a higher share of this (CO2 equivalent) than the transport sector worldwide. Particularly with methane emissions, crickets can help to reduce this as they produce approximately 80 times less methane than cattle, and in the long-term would impact our environment at a much, slower rate.

Manufacturers embarking on the insect business have already begun researching on this—the types of insects that can be used, how to properly rear them, etc. From sourcing insects, to processing them and storing them, as well as maintaining safety of processing facilities, all these need to be taken into consideration in order to provide consumers with the best tasteful and nutritious experience.