Beyond the Yuck Factor, Insect Proteins Face Hurdles

Originally Published: August 6, 2015
Last Updated: March 3, 2021
Beyond the yuck factor, insect proteins face hurdles. Cricket on a white background

Chicago, July 22, 2015 – There has been an abundance of attention-grabbing headlines that promote the use of insects, particularly insect protein, for human food use. A key advantage is their ability to provide high-quality nutrients with relatively low agricultural input; that is, they are a sustainable food source. The topic also attracts attention due to its novelty and humor. For example, don’t insects more often eat humans? At some point, however, a dose of reality is helpful. But, beyond the yuck factor, insect proteins face hurdles in food formulation from color, taste & texture to religious prohibitions.

Towards this goal, Global Food Forums, Inc. conducted an R&D Protein Trends Survey among food technologists attending its third annual Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar in May 2015. (Total registrants for the two day event equaled 231.) Commercially, protein ingredients are formulated into foods for nutritional reasons. Other characteristics must be considered, as well, including price, taste, color, allergenicity and consumer acceptance. Proteins are also chosen for functional attributes, such as solubility, their ability to emulsify and improve texture, and so on. The “protein knowledgeable” food technologists, so called because of their high involvement with protein ingredients, were given the opportunity to taste cricket protein flour during the 2015 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. At the end of the event, they completed a survey to assess cricket protein on eight factors that could be barriers to its use in foods, on a scale ranging from 1 (insignificant barrier) to 10 (maximum barrier).

Food technologists who tasted the cricket protein flour rated it with a total barrier score of 6.34; those that had not tried the powder responded with an even higher barrier score of 7.74. Tasters rated the cricket protein flour more acceptable on all eight factors than non-tasters.

Although the greatest barrier was “Consumer Acceptance,” it was followed closely by “Taste,” “Allergenicity” and “Cost.” (See attached chart “Formulation Barriers to Use of Insect Protein.”)

“We included the food safety issue of ‘allergenicity’ in the survey; however, many food formulators in the food industry have expressed additional concerns to us, such as the likelihood of various types of contamination, batch-to-batch inconsistency and other QC issues that must be dealt with by large scale commercial suppliers,” said Claudia O’Donnell, co-owner, Global Food Forums, Inc.

“The first most significant contribution of insects to Western diets is most likely to be first as animal feed,” O’Donnell added. “We agree with a 2013 Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) paper promoting the development of insects for human food. It suggested consumer products will remain a ‘niche market’ for at least another generation in the West and interest will be confined to immigrants and novelty-seekers.”

For more information on trends, statistics, technologies and formulation insights for the protein ingredient industry, see:

About Global Food Forums, Inc. Global Food Forums, Inc. (GFF) creates and manages unique turnkey conferences and in-person events in the food, beverage and nutritional products industry. Currently, GFF’s growing family of in-person product development conferences includes: Clean Label Conference; Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar; Formulating for Value Conference. Based in St. Charles, Ill., GFF is the entrepreneurial concept conceived by two food industry veterans who are the firm’s co-owners: Peter N. Havens, senior publishing executive long-associated with the food industry; and Claudia D. O’Donnell. MSc, MBA, former technical editor with several trade publications, as well as a R&D/QC director of several food manufacturing companies. Together, they have more than 80 years of experience in food and beverage products and conference management.