The Not So Creepy Crawly Side of Alternative Proteins

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I had only eaten a bug once before learning about the significant health benefits of edible insects. The first time, I was in the second grade, and my brother dared me to eat it. I don’t think I’m too different from most people since I likely would have never thought to eat a bug after a dare. Years later, with some convincing from some persuasive articles online, I decided to revisit the thought of eating insects. While eating insects sounds like a bad challenge on a reality game show, turns out they are actually a sustainable and nutritious option and have inspired me to be a bit more adventurous with cooking.

Do people really eat bugs?

Unfortunately, in the United States, there is a stigma against eating these proteins. From a young age, most children are taught to avoid insects as much as possible. Edible insects like mealworms, grasshoppers and many others are a part of the culture and cuisine of many other parts of the globe like in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These cultures incorporate edible insects into their diets as a way to obtain protein, iron, calcium and  vitamin B12. Using alternate protein sources can be a creative way to supplement your diet if you are unable to get the recommended amount of protein through traditional means. In addition, these products can also eliminate the need to use wheat, dairy or soy products which are all part of the primary eight allergens recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How can insects be used in our food?

Bug protein products are formed into a powder or flour by grinding up roasted, edible insects. This flour can be used by itself or in a variety of products including baked goods and protein powders. One of the more common edible insect products you can find is cricket flour because they are easy to use and are more acceptable to consumers. They can be used as a substitute for some or all the flour required in a baked goods recipe or used in smoothies, savory recipes and desserts.chocolate chip cookies

In terms of practical application, I’ve found that I have needed to experiment with the ratios in order to use alternatives if I want to substitute all-purpose flour with an alternative and achieve similar results. Luckily, some of the cricket flour products on the market already take this into account, making it easier to substitute all-purpose flour with cricket flour. Using these products in baked goods makes for a slightly denser product with some slightly nutty and roasted flavors.

Edible insects could impact the sustainability of the United States’ food supply.

Edible insects could be a sustainable solution to supporting the world’s food supply. Insect-fortified food products add protein and a host of other nutritional benefits to their products. In addition, they require much less energy and water to produce compared to traditional protein sources. Research is currently comparing insects grown for feed to traditional protein sources to see how effective insect proteins can be.

Why not try edible insect proteins?

This Halloween, why not make treats using insect-based foods as a “not-so-spooky” way to add some extra protein into your diet? These products can be an easy way to incorporate added benefits into your diet without sacrificing taste or quality. Edible insects could be completely unappealing to you, but with an open mind, trying one of these products could change your outlook on them.

Eddie Orzechowski, food technology research intern from Catholic University, Tamika Sims, Ph.D., and Kris Sollid, RD, contributed to this post.