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Would Westerners be more likely to embrace eating bugs in pastry form? Some can't even taste the difference

Insects have long been heralded the future of food. They have a tiny ecological footprint when compared with other livestock, and researchers consider them to be “ highly nutritious and especially rich in proteins .” While mealworm burgers may be nowhere near as popular as Beyond Burgers today, Western interest in bug protein is only expected to rise.

From cricket pasta to mealworm bolognese sauce, and energy bars to protein powder, the market for insects as food is projected to reach $10 billion by 2030, The Guardian reports. And as a new study by researchers at Ghent University in Belgium suggests, even though bug burgers may still be a hard sell in the West, insects in pastry form might be a different story. In the right proportions, testers couldn’t tell the difference between butter and larvae fat in baked goods.

In their blind taste test, scientists served 344 subjects three different versions of waffles, cakes and cookies. For each pastry, one batch was made with all butter, another with 75 per cent butter and 25 per cent black soldier fly larvae fat, and the third 50/50 butter and larvae fat. The cake samples containing one-quarter insect fat successfully escaped detection — testers didn’t notice anything amiss.

Researchers warned the participants in advance that the pastries might contain “an insect ingredient,” but none guessed that larvae fat had been used in the 25 per cent treats. “In the case of waffles, they did not even notice the presence of insect fat when half of the butter had been replaced,” they write. “Also, the texture and colour were hardly affected as compared with butter.”

As with edible bug species in general, the researchers highlight both ecological and health advantages to pursuing insect fat as food. A 2012 study published in PLOS One found that raising insects takes 25 times fewer land resources than cows, and according to 2015 research published in the journal Water , rearing mealworms requires one-third less freshwater than conventionally farmed animals.

Consumption of dairy alternatives — especially plant-based milks — is on the upswing. In the U.K., for example, 25 per cent of people opt for plant-based milk over conventional dairy. In line with these changing consumer preferences, and following an extensive environmental assessment, Starbucks recently announced it will encourage customers to choose “alternative milks” as part of a sustainability solution.

Even as a partial substitute for butter or unsustainable palm oil — as suggested in the study, which was published in the journal Food Quality and Preference — using insect fat could have environmental benefits. “The ecological footprint of an insect is much smaller compared to animal-based food sources,” said researcher Daylan Tzompa-Sosa of Ghent University .

Better for you than butter?

In terms of the health benefits, the Belgian researchers emphasize that the composition of larvae fat sets it apart. “Insect fat is a different type of fat than butter,” said Tzompa-Sosa. “Insect fat contains lauric acid, which provides positive nutritional attributes since it is more digestible than butter. Moreover, lauric acid has an antibacterial, antimicrobial and antimycotic effect. This means that it is able, for example, to eliminate harmless various viruses, bacteria or even fungi in the body, allowing it to have a positive effect on health.”

Two billion people around the world are already well-acquainted with eating more than 2,000 insect species. As prices drop and the ick factor associated with consuming them in the West ebbs, it’s conceivable that bugs will become a more substantial part of our diets.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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