Ryan Ardoin, Yupeng Gao, Cristhiam Gurdian and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul
With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion people by the year 2050, LSU AgCenter food scientists are working to address the challenge of ensuring global food security and sustainability. Finding new food sources may be a key because production methods seem unsustainable. One potential solution being evaluated at the LSU School of Nutrition and Food Sciences is edible insects as a food source for humans, a concept called “entomophagy.” The AgCenter scientists are testing recipes using protein from bugs — specifically crickets.
While edible insects are part of many traditional Eastern diets and are consumed by around 2 billion people worldwide, this food source is yet to be widely accepted in Western countries. One of the most common concerns people have about eating insects is unfamiliarity. Some people have an extreme dislike to anything unfamiliar, a condition called neophobia, while others find insects unappealing and still others find them outright disgusting.
The interest in this food source continues, however, because insects are safe to eat — although if people have a shellfish allergy they should avoid eating crickets — and are packed with high quality protein and other nutrients. In fact, the cricket flour being used in School of Nutrition and Food Sciences kitchens contains about 70% protein, which is comparable to whey protein concentrates on the market. But the most important reason for testing insect-foods is the benefit of sustainability.
The amount of land, water and feed required to produce each pound of edible cricket is only a fraction of what is needed to get the same amount of chicken, pork or beef. To illustrate this point, consider this: The same 100 gallons of water necessary to product 6 grams of beef or 19 grams of chicken would yield 71 grams of cricket. Additionally, compared to traditional livestock, crickets require minimal space for growth and emit negligible amounts of greenhouse gasses. This is significant because approximately 80% of agricultural land in the world is used as pasture for grazing, feed and fodder, and cattle are major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.
The first step to making entomophagy more approachable is understanding consumer perceptions. To figure out which insect-containing foods people might be willing to try, AgCenter scientists surveyed consumers and found that topping the list were protein bars and shakes, chips and baked goods. The scientists found that people who are ready to consume crickets are high in “sensation seeking” emotions, which include feeling adventurous, energetic and interested. In an AgCenter study in which consumers evaluated brownies made with cricket protein, the results demonstrated a positive effect on product acceptance after informing consumers about the benefits of entomophagy.
So far, the AgCenter team has developed tortilla chips, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and beer bread all formulated with cricket protein. Some commercial cricket products are already on the grocery store shelf, such as protein bars and chips. As research continues and the U.S. market for edible insects becomes better understood, a wider range of foods made with these six-legged protein providers will be available.
Ryan Ardoin, Yupeng Gao and Cristhiam Gurdian are doctoral students under Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, who holds the Horace J. Davis Endowed Professorship in Food Science and Technology.
(This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Doctoral students, left to right, Karuna Kharel from Nepal, Katheryn Parraga Estrada from Ecuador and Cristhiam Guardian Curran from Nicaragua were among the scientists in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences who developed the cricket protein chip. Photo courtesy of LSU
Cricket chips. Photo courtesy of LSU
Ingredients in the cricket chips. Photo courtesy of LSU
Students in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences created a new product: A chip with cricket protein. They administered a taste test with about 75 people and designed the packaging for this high-protein snack. Photo courtesy of LSU