Insects as Human Food
A guest blog from one of our PhD researchers Anna Rettore, Dublin Institute of Technology who recently completed our module on Science Writing and Presenting Skills in UCD 26-28th April 2016.
I am carrying on a very exciting research project: it’s about the use of insects as human food, and when I found out that I had won the bursary for this 4 years PhD in the Dublin Institute of Technology I couldn’t believe it. I moved from Padova, my hometown in Italy, to the Irish capital, ready to start a new adventure.
First of all I have to explain my motivation: apart from my personal passion for insects, there are very significant reasons to take into consideration eating insects. A very big part of the anthropic impact on the environment is due by the food supply chain, especially meat and animal-derived products. On the other side, world population is expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050 and a crisis in the food system is foreseen. Feeding the population while preserving the natural resources is becoming an impending and imperative issue that insects can contribute to solve, thanks to their sustainable production, and high content of protein and other valuable nutrients.
In the first phase of the project I am dealing with the extraction and characterization of protein from three different insect species, in three different life stages: adult crickets, silk worms’ pupae and mealworms’ larvae. Protein extraction and concentration are challenging because proteins are very heterogeneous, thus extraction needs to be planned and tailored for the specific sample. I am going to test three different extraction methods to optimize them and compare their yield in terms of quantity, purity and preservation of functionality. Protein extract is important for two reasons: it is required for the characterization of the protein and can also be used to enrich novel food products. I will do both, but in this phase I will focus on the first one: my current aim is in fact to characterize the proteins in terms of size and structure, and to obtain the amino acid profile in order to verify the biological value.
After that, I will explore the functional properties of both insect commercial flours and insect protein extracts: these are in fact the two most suitable way to incorporate insects in Western diet. Consumer acceptance is crucial when introducing insects in food, so in order to develop enjoyable food products it is essential to understand how these ingredients behave under different conditions. With the determination of their solubility, water holding capacity, thermal properties and foaming, emulsifying and gelling ability, we will get insight into how to exploit them to achieve appealing product formulations.
Insect farming is also very interesting for me, so I am working to get the possibility to collaborate with a research institution relevant in the field; in particular I would like to deepen techniques for insects rearing in closed cycles or on organic side streams. Nutritional value, safety risk and environmental impact depend largely from the farming step.
Stay in contact to know more!