The ever-growing population is intensifying the strain on the environment. Several studies estimate the global population to surpass the 9-billion market by 2050. Insects are rich in protein and can be consumed indirectly as recomposed foods or used as feed for animals. There are over 2,000 types of edible insects, including beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leaf and planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs, termites, dragonflies, and flies. The high nutritional value of edible insects — high-quality protein, vitamins, and amino acids — drives the growth of the insect protein market. Further, insects have a high food conversion rate, which further drives their consumption. The demand for insect protein is expected to grow in the coming years with the rise in health consciousness.
Since they are cold-blooded, crickets convert their food into energy far more efficiently than mammals. Insects have a high feed-conversion efficiency rate, which is measured in kg of feed per kg of weight gain, which is an average animal's capacity to convert feed into increased body mass.
A direct comparison between cricket and beef shows crickets are 69% protein while beef is only 29% protein. Crickets contain nine essential amino acids, along with B12, iron, zinc, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium, and produce 80 times less methane gas than cows; thus, their environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas production and global warming is far lesser than that of cattle. A wide variety of products can be made from cricket protein, such as cricket flour, which contains more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. Insect-based flour incorporating crickets and mealworms can be used to produce biscuits, cookies, bread, muffins, desserts, soups, smoothies, chips, and pasta.
Over half of the fish consumed around the world is now farmed, and they are fed by wild-caught fish, which is depleting marine life and adversely impacting entire marine ecosystems. Insect protein can be used as fishmeal since insects are a natural food source for fish. They are also a natural food source for poultry, and the exoskeleton of insects contains a substance known as chitin, which is a polysaccharide. Chitin naturally boosts the immune system of poultry, eliminating the need for antibiotics, which go up the food chain into humans.
In a single hectare of ground (2.47 acres), insects can produce 150 tons of insect protein per year. They require far less water than farming cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry — 100 gallons of water creates 6g of beef protein, 18g of chicken protein, or 238g of cricket protein. Insect farming can be set up in small buildings with a minimum number of employees. Further, insects have a high reproductive rate and are easy to manage and transport. Crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Besides, they emit fewer greenhouse gases.
Growing environmental concerns have seen an upsurge in the demand for biodegradable packaging and natural solutions. There is scope to incorporate the exoskeleton of insects, chitin, and chitosan, to meet these consumer demands. Chitin and chitosan are essential as processing and preservation aid in the edible film industry. Chitosan products are tough, long-lasting, flexible, and difficult to tear; they also have moderate water permeability values. In combination with other processing techniques such as heating and modified atmosphere packaging, they can be used to increase the storage life of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Chitosan films can control physiological changes in food products, thereby increasing their shelf life and maintaining their quality. Chitosan can be used to control enzymatic browning in cut fruits used for preparing fruit juices and reduce food damage due to its antimicrobial nature. High-density polyethylene (PET) films are extensively used in the packaging industry. Various vegetables and fruits, such as cucumbers, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes, maintain good post-harvest quality for long periods of time when coated with chitosan. Studies suggest chitosan decreases respiration rates, inhibits fungal development, and delays ripening due to the reduction of ethylene and carbon dioxide evolution, thereby prolonging shelf life.
Several studies conclude that aqueous extraction is the best method in terms of high protein yield and purity. The food industry can adopt aqueous extraction for insect proteins while simultaneously extracting the oil fraction as an environment-friendly and safe method compared to solvent-based extraction. The fact that gels can be formed using the soluble fractions obtained from the aqueous extraction procedure is considered promising in terms of future food applications.
Insect protein can be used as a natural and processed food replacement for fishmeal. Fishmeal is becoming a finite resource, and the high protein value of insects can easily replace the proteins in fish feed. Some of the insects used in fish feed include black soldier fly, common housefly, silkworm moth, and yellow mealworm. Many factories are carefully designed and equipped to generate large quantities of insects to support the increasing demand. Insects can be fed with fruit and vegetable waste, making them the ideal sustainable and natural ingredient for fish feed. Insects play a crucial role in nature i.e. they can turn fruit- and vegetable waste into high-quality protein, lipids, and micro-nutrients.
The use of insect protein in feed products is gaining traction in Europe and Asia-Pacific. In most European countries, the human consumption of insects is low and often considered culturally inappropriate. Considering the growing population and the demand for traditional pork, beef, and chicken meat, insects are being considered as a source of animal protein. Also, insect protein is being incorporated into other everyday food items, such that consumers benefit from the nutrition content without actually perceiving the insects being consumed. Thus, manufacturers have been introducing insect protein powder-based protein bars, protein powder, pasta, and bakery products. Since the insects are not directly visible to the consumers, such products are easily accepted.
In February 2008, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific organized an international workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, titled ‘Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back’. The workshop brought together many world experts on entomophagy, focusing specifically on the science, management, collection, harvesting, processing, marketing, and consumption of edible forest insects, as well as their potential to be reared commercially by local farmers. The proceedings of the Chiang Mai workshop aimed to raise awareness of the potential of edible forest insects as a food source, the contribution of edible insects to rural livelihoods, and highlight linkages to sustainable forest management and conservation.
List of top key insect protein market suppliers
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