Scientists develop ‘tasty’ meaty seasoning from mealworms

  • Insects are a well-known sustainable source of protein that is consumed by millions of people around the world.
  • However, most Westerners find the idea of ​​eating insects unappealing.
  • As the world’s population grows and concerns about future food shortages grow, scientists are developing ways to make sustainable food sources such as mealworms more palatable.
  • Researchers say they’ve made an attractive meat substitute from mealworms and recently presented their work at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at least 2 billion people eat insects as part of their diet. Still, fried grasshoppers remain a hard sell in much of the western world.

Insects are a sustainable food source that is often packed with protein. As such, scientists are developing ways to make them tastier.

South Korean researchers recently added to that growing body of work, developing a desirable “meat-like” texture from yellow mealworm beetle larvae (Tenebrio molitor) by boiling it with sugar. According to a press release, scientists believe that mealworms “could one day be used in ready meals as a tasty source of extra protein.”

Their research was presented today at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

For the study, In Hee Cho, lead researcher and professor in the department of food science and biotechnology at Wonkwang University in South Korea, led a team of scientists who compared the flavors of mealworms throughout their life cycle.

Each stage — egg, larva, pupa, adult — gave off odors, the researchers found. Raw larvae, for example, gave off an odor of “wet soily, shrimp-like, and sweetcorn-like aromas.”

Next, the scientists compared the flavors that developed when mealworm larvae were cooked in different ways. Mealworms roasted and fried in oil produced flavors including: pyrazinesalcohols and aldehydes (an organic compound), which were similar to flavorings found in cooking meat and seafood.

A member of the research team then tested different production conditions and proportions of mealworms and powdered sugars. This produced different reaction aromas, the aromas that result from heating a protein and sugar. The team then presented several samples to a panel of volunteers who provided feedback on which one had the most beneficial “meat-like odor.”

10 reaction flavors were selected. Reaction flavors showing higher amounts of garlic powder were rated more positively. Reaction flavors with more methionine were judged to be more negative.

The researchers say they plan to continue studying the impact of mealworm cooking to reduce unwanted flavors.

This kind of research is essential to figure out how to prepare mealworms to appeal to the masses, according to Cassandra Maya, a PhD fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport at the University of Copenhagen, who is not involved in the new. research.

“Smell is often the first sense to interact with food,” Maya explained to Medical news today.

“Think of walking into a room where someone just baked chocolate chip cookies. An attractive scent can increase [the] food acceptability. In order for insects to be widely accepted, they must appeal to all senses. This includes avoiding ‘dirty’ textures, smells and tastes.”

– Cassandra Maya, PhD fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport at the University of Copenhagen

According to the World Population Data Sheet, the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

“Sustainability is a huge driving factor in edible insect research, Maya said. “We need to explore alternative proteins to feed the growing population and reduce strain on our current food system.” Mealworms are a suitable alternative because they are nutritious and less labor intensive than traditional livestock.”

A 2012 study found that it takes 2 to 10 times less farmland to produce 1 kilogram of insect protein compared to producing 1 kilogram of protein from pigs or cattle.

Mealworm studies from 2015 and 2017 reported that the water footprint or amount of fresh water used to produce the food per edible ton of mealworms is comparable to that of chicken meat and 3.5 times lower than that of beef.

Likewise, another one study from 2010 found that mealworms produce less greenhouse gases and ammonia than traditional livestock.

“Current agricultural practices are already negatively impacting our environment,” Changqi Liu, PhD, an associate professor of the school of exercise and nutritional sciences in the College of Health and Human Services at San Diego State University, who was not involved in the new research, told MNT.

“We need to find more sustainable ways to meet food demand. I think these are alternative, more sustainable protein sources [a] very important part of these solutions to these challenges.”

– Changqi Liu, associate professor of the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at San Diego State University

Maya explained that mealworms provide solid nutritional value.

“Mealworms’ nutritional composition can vary by processing method (raw vs. dried), stage of development, and even diet, but generally contain high-quality protein in similar values ​​to traditional meat choices,” she said.

In fact, 2017 research shows that mealworms are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), a healthy fat, are categorized as a source of zinc and niacin, and are rich in magnesium and pyridoxine, riboflavin, folate and vitamin B-12.

Maya added that she has tried cooked mealworms in different ways and loves the taste.

“It depends on how they’re prepared, but I’ve always found dried mealworms a bit nutty,” she said.

dr. Liu said he would like to see more studies, such as the research presented on ACS that characterizes the taste profiles of mealworms.

“I think it’s very important for consumer adoption – they to have to taste good,” he said.

“There are already disgust factors and barriers that keep people from eating insects. I think understanding their taste is very important for developing an acceptable product for the consumer.”

Maya agreed: “We need to keep exploring ways [to] increase acceptability and integrate insects such as mealworms into daily meals,” she said.

“There must be the right laws to make edible insects safe and available to everyone. For mealworms to make a difference, people have to eat them.”

– Cassandra Maya, PhD fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport at the University of Copenhagen

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