- A new study has found that ground mealworm larvae could improve the texture of extruded snacks, while also boosting their protein content, Food Navigator reports.
- The researchers found that cereal-based snacks with 10% mealworm powder had an improved structure — and that the extrusion process might also improve the insect protein’s digestibility. But at 20% mealworm powder, the snacks did not expand well during extrusion, due to the larvae's high fat content.
- At the 10% level, the snacks would contain 13.7 g of protein per 100 g, enough to make a "source of protein" claim under European law.
Snack makers have been looking to boost the protein content in their products as consumers increasingly consider protein when making a purchase.
But there are problems with many of the available protein ingredients, including cost, sustainability and flavor. Insect protein producers and researchers claim that working with bugs could resolve these issues — the ingredients tend to be cheap to produce, require few agricultural inputs, produce very little in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and are bland in flavor — but their regulatory status remains a major obstacle.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says manufacturers should consult with the agency before using insect protein in their products, citing "increasing evidence of allergenicity concerns". In Europe, the rules were unclear until very recently. Some countries, like The Netherlands, approved the sale of bug burgers, while others, like Italy, banned them. New regulation introduced last month may simplify the situation as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has explicitly referred to insects within its novel foods regulation. This means that if a company's insect-based product gains EFSA approval, its sale will be authorized throughout the region.
Even as more insect protein is approved for use in foods, consumer acceptance might continue to prove problematic. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says it is the biggest challenge for insect ingredients — although it also claims that widespread disgust can be overcome, citing the example of raw fish in sushi.
However, others point to manufacturers' experience with insect-derived cochineal as a useful parallel. The red dye was used for years in foods before the Food and Drug Administration required it to be labeled in 2009, and many consumers — particularly vegetarians — were horrified. Starbucks, among others, was prompted to reformulate with other natural colors.