Adding 10% or 30% cricket powder to wheat flour resulted in bread with a higher nutritional profile and more fatty acid composition, protein content and essential amino acids, Italian researchers found. The study demonstrated that "edible insects powder can successfully be included in leavened baked goods to enhance their protein content," and that edible insects "can constitute a novel source of innovative ingredients to be used in bread making."
Untrained panelists seemed to like the bread enriched with 10% cricket powder, researchers noted, but the presence of spore-forming bacteria in that bread raised potential safety issues.
Researchers managed to overcome the problem by applying preventive treatments, such as microwaving the insect powder before adding it to the bread, according to BakeryandSnacks. Their study was published in Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies.
Even though the average U.S. consumer isn't particularly keen on trying products containing cricket flour or other forms of insects, people in other countries aren't so squeamish. Approximately 2 billion people worldwide routinely eat insects, which are a readily available, cheap and sustainable source of protein and other nutrients.
The future for the sector looks promising. According to Global Market Insights, the global edible insects market could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets making up the greatest potential growth areas.
This past fall, Finland, the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Australia and Denmark began allowing insects to be raised and marketed for food. A Finnish bakery, Fazer, has started selling bread containing cricket flour — about 70 crickets per loaf — in 11 of its Helsinki outlets and plans to expand the product to all 47 of its stores this year.
Manufacturers in the U.S. are beginning to experiment with cricket flour as well. Chirps, Bitty Foods and Exo Protein are using it in various products, and MOM's Organic Market started carrying some products last year containing insects. PepsiCo posted a request on open innovation site NineSights seeking novel protein sources, including insect protein, for possible use in snacks and beverages.
Edible insects contain high levels of fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, sometimes at levels similar to red meat or fish. House crickets are said to contain an average of 205 grams of protein per kilogram, compared to 256 for beef. Other insect varieties contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids and iron.
Despite their protein and nutrient advantages, most U.S. consumers aren't likely to relish eating insects, even if their appearance is hidden when ground into flour. There also are potential safety issues, as noted by the Italian researchers, although they said that the spore-forming bacteria problem can easily be corrected. Still, it's possible that the safety of an insect-based product isn't likely to be as big an issue for U.S. food and beverage manufacturers as the inevitable "ick" factor.
However, consumer tastes and global dietary patterns can, and do, change. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has pointed out, the rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi is a good example of this phenomenon. In the U.S., bugs could be next.