Researchers determine nutritional properties of proteins in cricket, grasshopper and silkworm pupa powders

As the human population grows to the predicted 10 billion by 2050 and the total land mass remains constant, traditional livestock farming may become a less viable method of food production. Livestock farming has traditionally met human nutritional needs for protein, but insects may serve as an alternative to direct human consumption in the future. Jacek Jaczynski, professor of nutritional science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Yong-Lak Park, professor of entomology, and Kristen Matak, professor of animal and food sciences, determined the nutritional and functional properties of protein for cricket, grasshopper and silkworm pupa powders, laying a foundation for developing efficient protein isolation techniques. Their findings were published in LWT.

“We have a patent on a protein isolation procedure,” says Jaczynski. “We use our proprietary technique to isolate proteins and then we also learn about the properties of isolated proteins and how it could potentially be used in food for human consumption.” Protein isolation is a process that allows for purification and concentration of proteins from different sources, says Jaczynski.

“Milk, for example, contains water, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and various proteins such as casein and whey,” Jaczynski said. “Whey protein can be selectively isolated through various isolation processes, removing water, fat, carbohydrates, etc. This process results in whey protein isolate or purified and up-concentrated protein.” Whey protein isolate is a common food additive that results, for example, in foods with an increased protein content. In the project by Jaczynski, Park and Matak, they isolated proteins such as muscle protein from insects.

Jaczynski and Matak said that as the human population grows, an alternative protein option should be available. “I think we generally have a good handle on carbs, but protein is always lagging behind,” said Jaczynski. “That’s why we’re targeting proteins from those alternative sources like insects to hopefully contribute to less hunger, malnutrition and difficult societal problems.”

“The global demand for sustainable sources of protein has led to a shift from traditional sources such as meat to other otherwise overlooked sources,” Matak says. “Edible insects and insect meal show promise as meat alternatives because they are typically rich in protein and contain all essential amino acids.” To make eating the insects more appealing, researchers suggested turning the insect into powder. This method was similar to how humans processed the profits into flour to make it more edible.

Essentially, insect powders were dried and powdered insects and were similar to grain flour or vegetable powder. While insect powders are a simple and easy processing method to extend shelf life, the original formulation likely limits their uses in food products, which could lead to low consumer acceptance, said Jaczynski, Park and Matak.

Park said insect powders are currently commercially available and can be found in granola bars, tofu and burgers. Eating terrestrial insects is widely accepted in most of the world. In Western cultures, however, eating insects is portrayed in a negative light.

Despite this, most edible terrestrial insects are seemingly cleaner than crabs, lobsters and shrimps, as they would feed on fresh plants and wood rather than carrion. Jaczynski said 80 percent of the world’s population already consumes insects, and Western cultures make up the 20 percent that don’t.

“It’s a minority that doesn’t consume insects,” Jaczynski said. “As the population grows, we’ll have to feed everyone. I’m not saying insects will replace our farm animals, but it’s another alternative that seems more sustainable than what we’re currently doing.” For example, insect protein can be harvested much faster than a cow or pig and would also require less land and water consumption. Insects also had shorter lifespans, reproduced quickly, and required simple and minimal habitat and feeding requirements.

According to Jaczynski and Park, the harvesting cycle for insects is generally 45 days, which was much shorter than four to 36 months for traditional farm animals. A specific type of grasshopper has even been shown to produce the same proteins as in pigs and cows, called actin and myosin.

There are more than 2,000 species of insects that have been determined to be safe for human consumption, but some species have been studied more often than others, Park said. “Mealworm and crickets are popular because they can be mass-produced very easily,” Park said. “So if we’re producing insects as food for humans and animals, it should be very easy to mass-produce, otherwise it doesn’t justify the cost.”

Park added that people in some Asian countries would consume leftover silkworm pupae from a cocoon because of its high nutritional value. In their study, Jaczynski, Park and Matak found that protein can be efficiently isolated from insects using pH solubility precipitation, resulting in isolates of high nutritional and functional quality.

Proteins, like sugar and salt, dissolve in water. However, the solubility of proteins depends on the pH of a solution containing the protein. “Depending on the pH of a protein solution, the solubility of proteins can be turned on or off, a kind of light switch, so that protein can dissolve or precipitate (no solubility),” Jaczynski said.

Precipitation was the opposite of solubility. When protein dissolved in a solution, it visually disappeared from that solution, much like sugar or salt, while when protein precipitated, it visually reappeared, Jaczynski said. “In insects, our intention is to selectively extract those nutrients, such as proteins and lipids,” Jaczynski said.

“Grains have been around for centuries and were fully accepted by all populations,” Jaczynski continued. “Why don’t we use insects with the same kind of model at a high level as a source of nutrients? We need to find a way to extract and isolate high-quality nutrients and develop prototypes that will go well with our taste buds.” he said. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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