Protein is an essential element of a healthy human diet. A lack of protein, or poor protein quality, can compromise nutritional status.1 While meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood have long provided high-quality sources, the demand for alternatives is rising sharply.
The food system faces pressure from an expanding global population, which is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.2 Concern around climate change is rising together with the number of people, and many consumers are now seeking out more sustainable protein choices.
Insects have been recognized as an alternative source for some time. Yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) can provide a highly sustainable source of protein with excellent nutritional benefits. In addition, they are versatile ingredients that can be consumed whole or processed into powders, pastes, and oils.
Christophe Derrien, Secretary-General of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF)3, said: “As our dietary habits are rapidly changing and the willingness of consumers to try new protein-rich products is increasing, edible insects are becoming more and more appealing to European consumers. IPIFF believes that the market in Europe will grow rapidly, driven by accessibility, consumer acceptance, and regulatory advancements, such as the Novel Food authorizations.”
Insects’ main components are protein, fat, and fiber. While nutritional values can vary significantly between species, many insects are well-placed to meet human requirements for energy and protein.4
The yellow mealworm, which is popular in many Asian countries, is a prime example. A comparison with beef found that the mealworms were only marginally lower in protein and metabolisable energy. The mealworms contained 49.1% protein based on dry matter compared to 55% for beef, while metabolisable energy was 2,056 kilocalories per kilogram for the mealworms and 2,820 for beef.5
Importantly, yellow mealworms’ protein is high quality and—like beef—contains all nine essential amino acids. While beef is higher in glutamic acid, lysine, methionine, and histidine, yellow mealworms offer superior amounts of isoleucine, leucine, valine, tyrosine, and alanine.
Insects provide many nutritional advantages beyond protein. For example, many are high in unsaturated fatty acids. The aforementioned study found that yellow mealworms contain 35.2% fat based on dry matter compared to 41% for beef. The beef was higher in palmitoleic, palmitic and stearic acid, but yellow mealworms contained far greater quantities of linoleic acid—an essential polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.
Yellow mealworms are also an excellent source of minerals, while the vitamin content is generally higher than beef.
Insects benefit from significant amounts of fiber, too, with chitin—found in the exoskeleton—the most common.6 This prebiotic fiber has the potential to provide nutrients for probiotic gut materials in humans. One study on mouse gut microbiota found that consuming yellow mealworms promoted the growth of Bifidobacteriaceae and Lactobacillaceae, suggesting they could also improve the microbial population in the human gut.7
Insect farming offers significant environmental advantages over livestock farming, generating lower greenhouse gas emissions and requiring less land and water.8 Mealworms generate 2.7kg of CO2-equivalent emissions per 100g of protein compared to 49.89kg for beef, while water use is nearly five times lower. Mealworms can also be reared using vertically aligned crates, which means they require only 1.8 square meters of land to produce 100g of protein, compared to 163.6m2 for beef.9,10,11
Insects’ capacity to reduce food waste is a further benefit as they can be fed with low-value by-products from food and agri industries as well as unsold food products.
Kęstutis Lipnickas, CEO and co-founder of Divaks, said: “From their nutritional profiles to their sustainability credentials, edible insects are well-placed to meet the needs of a growing population. Mealworm protein’s functional properties unlock broad opportunities for food applications including sports nutrition, meat alternatives, confectionery, snacks, baked goods, and cereals.”
Divaks will be at Vitafoods Europe 2022, find them through the event platform and onsite at Stand H70F
1. World Health Organization 'Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition'
2. United Nations 'World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights'
3. The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) is an EU non-profit organization which represents the interests of the insect production sector towards EU policymakers, European stakeholders, and citizens
4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 'Nutritional value of insects for human consumption'
5. Finke, M.D. 'Complete nutrient composition of commercially raised invertebrates used as food for insectivores' Zoo Biology (2002)
6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 'Nutritional value of insects for human consumption'
7. Kwon, G.T. et al. 'Mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor L.) exuviae as a novel prebiotic material for BALB/c mouse gut microbiota' Food Science and Biotechnology (2020)
8. Van Huis, A. & Oonincx, D.G.A.B. 'The environmental sustainability of insects as food and feed. A review' Agronomy for Sustainable Development (2017)
9. Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. 'Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers' Science (2018)
10. Nadeau, L., Nadeau, I., Franklin, F., & Dunkel, F. 'The Potential for Entomophagy to Address Undernutrition' Ecology of Food and Nutrition (2015)
11. Oonincx, D. G. A. B., & de Boer, I. J. M. 'Environmental Impact of the Production of Mealworms as a Protein Source for Humans - A Life Cycle Assessment'. PLoS ONE (2012)