Would you eat insects?

Would you eat insects?

Entomophagy, or insect consumption by humans, is not a novelty to anyone. Diets based on insects and arthropods are fully accepted in many countries and cultures, especially in South America, Asia or Africa. Even they are a real delicacy for some gourmets experts, for which they pay very high prices. There are markets for edible insects, at prohibitive prices, in cities such as New York, Tokyo, Mexico or Los Angeles, and some of the most famous international chefs include them in their famous recipes.

They do not have a single fault, nutritionally speaking. They are a balanced and healthy food, with high protein content, rich in essential amino acids. They are an important source of unsaturated fatty acids and chitin, besides of having vitamins and minerals beneficial for our body.

However, it is true that these ‘bugs’ have attracted the attention of the media, research institutions and members of food industry in recent months. Why now?

Experts say insects can provide a part of the necessary calories in countries where the consumption of some foods is limited. The Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations (FAO) expects the world population will increase by 2050 in 9700 million people, about 24% people more than now, so there will be a greater need to supply food. Therefore, it could be a solution to help reducing the levels of hunger in the world.

On the other hand, agriculture and livestock, as we know them today, are primary activities that emit greenhouse gases. In comparison, insect could be produced with lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. Therefore, the incorporation of these new ingredients to our market list can also improve the situation of the planet in the climate change’s fight, as well as contributing to the circular economy process due to insects can feed with agrifood waste.

In addition to these reasons, on January 1st, Regulation (EU) 2215/2283 come into force, which includes insects within the category of ‘novel foods’, which is a big step to simplify the authorization process.

And, if eating insects have so many advantages, why are they not consumed regularly in Spain and in many other Western countries?

Because, in spite of legislation, there is an emotional and cultural rejection to include them in our plates. In other words, they make us feel sick!

This argument has been demonstrated by a pioneering experiment through blind tasting of different foods prepared with insects and monitored with neuroscientific tools, carried out in the context of GO_INSECT and ECIPA projects. These are two innovative initiatives related to the breeding of insects for food as an alternative and sustainable source of proteins. CARTIF takes part in the first one, a Supra-autonomic Operative Group, which has the financial support of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply.

This blind tasting has served to demonstrate that taste is not the reason why we do not choose insects for eating. The main reason is the appearance of them, knowing what they are, being aware that we are going to eat something disgusting for us.

How did the experiment carry out?

28 people participated in the tasting, which took place at the Veterinary School of the University of Zaragoza, while the electrodermal activity of us was recorded. Previously, we were warned products of the tasting could contain lactose, gluten, nuts, crustaceans and insects.

Participants tasted four dishes with insects in their composition, and a fifth dish without them, which served as base of comparison. In three of those that contained insects, they were processed and were not visible directly to the eye. In the fourth, insects were easily recognizable.

All these options were carefully elaborated and tested in advance in order to avoid mistakes in the evaluation. Bitbrain Company’s technology measured sensory responses, both when visualizing the food and when eating it. At the end, they evaluated with and individual survey the satisfaction to each elaboration.

And the results?

The non-conscious emotional response to the three first dishes, which have insects in their composition in a non-visible way, fell within the normal parameters to the tasting of the rest. That is, the fact that a plate contains insects does not influence negatively in the taste and is not detected at the physiological level either.

On the other hand, the emotional impact of the participants when we tasted the whole insect (small dry larvae of Tenebrio molitor or flour worm) was much higher than in the resto of the dishes. Even, the emotional impact was greater during the visualization than during the intake. That is to say, what produces that impact is the knowledge of knowing that what we have before us is an insect, not so much the consumption.

At a conscious level, the average score given to the dishes in which the insects were incorporated as flour was 7’6. Only one participant did not agree to taste the plate of the whole insect. Those who taste it marked a 5’9 of average grade.

After knowing that all the products we had tested contained insects, secured we would eat them again. Only one of the participants confirmed in the survey will not buy products that had been fed with insects.

So, at least, we should give them a chance, even if they are masked. More than 2 billion people already incorporate them into their diet, so a quarter of the world’s population cannot be wrong.

Alimentaria 2018

Alimentaria 2018

For those of us who work in R&D&I in food, the international reference events in the food sector, such as Alimentaria and Hostelco are very interesting. With 4.500 exhibitors from 70 countries and nearly of 150.000 registered experts, Spain has once again turned into the European benchmark of this sector. With a great success of attendance and internationalization, this meeting is not only a good opportunity to generate business, but new trends and bets have been presented for the next years in innovation, gastronomy and restoration.

From the point of view of innovation, we must go through Innoval, where 300 new products and new launches were gathering. For researchers, to find products on the market in which they have been worked on in laboratory is satisfactory. In the case of CARTIF, this year some of our clients were present, such as Cecinas Pablo, with its new range of snacks from beef jerky or Campofrío, with their cured hams with 25% less of salt, the result of a project carried out jointly.

Among the most curious and fun products, the gin-tonic croquettes of Maheso, ready-to-eat calamari sandwich of Pescanova, preserved fish with aloe vera of Vixvital, 3D printed sponge cake of Dulcesol, chocolate pizza of Telepizza, endible straws of Sorbos or the plastic wine glass of One Glass Wine. All of them reflect the importance of R&D&I applied to food to achieve different products that satisfy an increasingly demanding consumer audience.

But, in addition to the most striking and original offers, this edition of Alimentaria has confirmed the trend of recent years: companies seek to offer healthier products, with the reduction of fats, sugars and salt. Pre-cooked dishes, sauces, dairy products, cereal drinks, yoghurts, ‘bio’, ‘with’ and ‘without’ smoothies, sliced for vegetarians (0% meat) or new formulations that include those commonly called ‘superfoods’ (chia, chlorella, spirulina, kale, lucuma, maca…). To this tendency joins the great variety of snacks (meat, vegetables, fruits, legumes or nougat) that are being introduced to the market very quicly.

On the other hand, in the several conferences in the framework of Alimentaria, experiences have been shared in national and international projects, where experts have emphasised the variety of lines of actuation and the strong collaboration between companies and technological centres. This edition underlines the effort of the companies in the development of new products, on the right track of improving their nutritional profiles in their formulations.

The concern of consumers about health in relation to food makes it essential to work on the performance of intervention studies and the preparation of nutritional tests on personalized nutrition in order to establish a diet and health relation focused on the three different large population groups: children, adults and the elderly.

Within this field, in CARTIF we are taking part in large projects such as PRIMICIA, METASIN, PROGRESO or NUTRIPECISIÓN. In all of them, we work to improve the products and adapt the processing conditions to the new formulations in order to satisfy the current regulations and, of course, the needs and requirements set by the consumers.