Food science experts characterize the properties of proteins in several insect powders

Food science experts characterize the properties of proteins in several insect powders

Jacek Jaczynski, professor of food science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Yong-Lak Park, professor of entomology, and Kristen Matak, professor of animal and nutritional sciences, determined the nutritional and functional properties of protein for cricket, locust and silk worm pupae powders, therefore laying a foundation to develop efficient protein isolation techniques.

Story Highlights:

  • Animal farming has traditionally fulfilled human nutritional requirements for protein, but insects may serve as an alternative for direct human consumption in the future.

  • Their findings are published in LWT.

We have a patent on a protein isolation procedure. We use our patented technique to isolate protein and then we also learn about properties of isolated protein and how it can be potentially used in food for human consumption.”

Jacek Jaczynski, Professor, Food Science and Muscle Food Safety, West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Protein isolation is a process that allows purification and up-concentration of protein from various sources, according to Jaczynski. “For example, milk contains water, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and various proteins such as casein and whey,” Jaczynski said. “Whey protein can be selectively isolated by various isolation processes, which remove water, fat, carbohydrates, etcetera. This process results in whey protein isolate or purified and up-concentrated protein.”

Whey protein isolate is a very common food additive that results in, for example, foods with boosted protein content. In Jaczynski, Park and Matak’s project, they isolate protein such as muscle protein from insects. Jaczynski and Matak said that as the human population grows, there needs to be an alternative protein option available.

“I think overall, we have a good handle on carbohydrates, but protein is always behind,” Jaczynski said. “That’s why we target protein from those alternative sources like insects to hopefully contribute to less hunger, malnutrition and difficult societal issues.” “The global demand for sustainable sources of protein has created a shift from traditional sources like meat to other sources that were otherwise overlooked,” Mataksaid. “Edible insects and insect flours are promising as meat alternatives because they are typically rich in protein and contain all of the essential amino acids.”

Although insect powders are a simple and convenient processing method to increase shelf life, the original composition likely limits their applications in food products, which could result in low consumer acceptability, according to Jaczynski, Park and Matak. Park said insect powders are currently commercially available and can be found in granola bars, tofu and burgers.

Essentially, insect powders are dried and powdered insects and are similar to grain flours or plant-derived powders. To make eating the insects more appealing, researchers suggest turning the insect into powder. This method is similar to how humans process gains into flour to make it more edible.

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