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Insect Processing

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Insect processing is a rapidly evolving industry that’s challenging traditional notions of food, feed, and resource sustainability. Insects, once considered mere pests, have emerged as a potent resource for addressing pressing global issues like food security and environmental sustainability.

Although insects are becoming more accepted as possible protein sources for food and feed, the appearance of insects may be off-putting due to associations of disgust. Edible insects are more likely to be eaten if processed into non-recognizable forms, meaning eliminating the formation of disgust. Thus, insects require the use of commercial processing methods that will render the protein suitable for food formulation while maintaining the safety and nutritional quality of the product.

Standard methods used include lipid extraction, enzymatic proteolysis, thermal processing, low-temperature processing, and dehydration. Each method has advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully considered as different edible insects require other processing methods.

Insects are part of the human diet in many parts of the world. Currently, most edible insects are harvested from the wild, although indoor farming has increased insect availability and the sustainability of production.

The current food production has a long way to go. Essentially, it needs to double to fulfill the food requirements of the ever-growing population. This effort would require finding environment-friendly and sustainable food production methods and food sources. In this case, edible insects could be a good solution as they satisfy the human need for food and are highly nutritious.

The growth of the edible insects market is mainly attributed to the growing greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock and poultry industries, the nutritional value of insects, the low environmental impact of their entire life cycle, and the low risk of transmitting zoonotic diseases.

Based on insect type, the edible insects market is mainly segmented into the following:

  • crickets
  • mealworms
  • black soldier flies
  • buffalo worms
  • grasshoppers
  • ants
  • and many more edible insects

In terms of value, in 2020, the crickets segment accounted for the largest share of the overall edible insects market. The large share of this segment is mainly due to the high nutritional value, easy farming, and easy processing of crickets.

Typical processing methods will include cooking the insects, separating the oil, drying, and milling. The drying phase, in particular, is vital for producing high-quality protein from your insect processing line. If the insects are under-dried, molds or bacteria can occur. At the same time, over-drying can cause scorching and reduce the nutritional value and quality of the protein powder.

The last step in the process is milling or grinding the carefully dried material into the appropriate powder for the intended use. For a protein to be used as an insoluble ingredient product such as protein drink powders, a much finer mill may be required compared to insect ‘flours’ to be used in baking and food recipes.

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Grinding insects into powder form or utilizing ingredients derived from insects such as protein, lipids, and chitin is one of the approaches to obtain the nutritional benefits of insect consumption. Some of the perceptions of edible insects are that they may seem disgusting; therefore, it is essential that insects need to incorporate them in a non-recognizable form. This may alleviate the negative perceptions by associating foods containing insect powders with more familiar and comfortable foods.

Insect flours are typically produced by dehydrating or roasting whole insects, then grinding them into a fine powder form called flour. However, the techno-functional properties, e.g., emulsification, foaming, solubility, of the protein present in these flours can be affected due to chitin-protein interactions, thus limiting its applicability to formulate food products.

Approaches for developing insect protein powders that will allow for the chitin separation include the following:

  • enzymatic proteolysis
  • heat treatments
  • solvent extractions

In traditional cultures, insects are processed in several ways (steaming, roasting, smoking, frying, stewing, and curing) to improve their nutritional qualities. To increase the interest of consumers in Western countries, various technologies have been developed to eliminate the disgust of edible insects. Meaning using insects as ingredients in a non-recognizable form, such as powders or flour. These technologies include:

  • multiple forms of drying, such as:
    • sun-drying
    • freeze-drying
    • oven-drying
  • ultrasound-assisted extraction cold
  • atmospheric pressure plasma
  • dry fractionation designed for protein and fat extraction.

Insect-based ingredients are sold to produce cookies, chocolates, tortilla-style chips, and other snacks.

Although the existing processes in the edible food industry vary depending on the species used and the final product to be developed, most of them can be grouped into a relatively small number of operations with the same basic principles, focusing on similar purposes.

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Articles about Insect Processing

Experts for Insect Processing

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