Thursday, November 30, 2023

Insect research finds the grub in grubs

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Don’t fancy biting into one? Grind it up as a food additive instead.
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Fancy a huhu humus or a sago salad dressing?

It’s not to everyone’s taste, but University of Otago researchers reckon the high-quality protein of some insects could be of value to some foods.

Researchers in the Department of Food Science have been investigating the nutritional value of huhu grubs and possible food applications of huhu and sago grubs.

They have published two research papers in leading international journals Foods and Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology, revealing the rich, high-quality proteins of the insects and their potential uses in a variety of foods.

Co-author and project supervisor Dr Dominic Agyei said the research raises the awareness of the functional properties of edible insect proteins, created by drying and grinding the grubs into powder, and extracting proteins from them.

“Edible insects have a growing reputation as an excellent source of important nutrients such as proteins, fat and minerals. But we felt the general public was less aware that insect proteins can also have functional properties – the things that make food look and taste good and be appealing,” he said.

The researchers found protein from sago grubs is very good at forming strong gels, foams and emulsions.

The lead author, PhD candidate Ruchita Kavle, said both grub proteins have the ability to create foams that are stable by at least 80% even after 60 minutes.

“To put this in context, if you had used the insect proteins to make a cappuccino, the foam would still be sitting on top of your coffee after more than an hour.

“These properties make it excellent for use in products like mayonnaise, salad dressings, ice cream, desserts, dips such as hummus, and perhaps in huhu grub milk.

“By including grub protein in these foods, their nutritional value would be boosted,” she said.

 Agyei believes more people should embrace insects as an alternative protein source.

“Insects are excellent alternatives that diversify our food sources and are incredibly nutritious – they are rich in proteins, minerals, and a compound called chitin, a gut-health-friendly dietary fibre.”

For those who are put off by the sight of insect parts in their food, there are other options. Insects can be turned into powders for use in food. 

Kavle also highlighted the sustainability of edible insects – they contribute to eight of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“Rearing insects is a low-resource business opportunity which emits fewer greenhouse gases than other animal-based food sources. 

“Insects can also be raised on food waste, which is great for building a circular economy and sustainability,” she said.

Consumer insights is an area in which research needs to be done to get more people eating insects regularly.

“Without consumer buy-in, the many benefits of insects as a source of food cannot be realised. A bigger market would also drive interest from entrepreneurs and researchers, which can drive prices down for the consumer.”

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