Study supports protein-boosting power of mealworm powder for extruded snacks

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / PicturePartners
© Getty Images / PicturePartners

Related tags: Nutrition

Powder from yellow mealworm larvae may boost the protein content of an extruded cereal snack and boost the microstructure of the products, says a new study.

Snacks enriched with 10% mealworm (Tenebrio molitor​) powder had a macronutrient profile that would meet the European criteria for the food to claim to be a “source of protein”, ​report scientists from the University of Foggia in Italy and Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands.

“Our results pave the way for designing of innovative food microstructures with tailored digestibility characteristics,” ​they wrote in Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies​.

“To date, ingredients derived from insects fractionation are not allowed in EU. Insect protein isolate would probably overcome technological issues due to the high lipid content, however their market adoption is currently denied.

“The addition of grinded mealworm significantly improved the nutritional profile of the extruded product and the protein concentration of snacks added with 10% mealworm allows to use the claim “source of protein” according to European food law.”

Study details

The scientists assessed different levels of insect inclusion, ranging from 0 to 20%, and the impact of processing conditions on the resulting extruded snacks.

The results showed that at 10% enrichment with mealworm powder, the snacks had a net digestible protein content of 13.7 grams per 100 grams, compared to only 10.3 grams for the snacks formulated with only wheat flour. At 20%, the protein content increased to 14.8 grams per 100 grams.

In addition, the 10% enrichment level led to significant improvements in the microstructure (expansion and pore structure), said the researchers, and the textural qualities were acceptable. On the other hand, 20% enrichment led to poor expansion properties, linked to the fat content of the mealworm larvae.

“Interestingly, mechanical forces generated in extrusion likely improved the digestibility of ​T. molitor proteins which are tightly bound and sclerotized to the exoskeleton,” ​they added.

Commenting on the potential industrial relevance of the study’s findings, the scientists stated: “This study evaluated the nutritional and technological properties of extruded cereal snacks enriched with an edible insect powder (​T. molitor). Results suggested that edible insects can be used as novel ingredient in extruded snacks and pointed out how processing conditions can modulate snack digestibility.”

FoodNavigator-USA: Are all insects considered to be food, or just those with a history of being consumed by humans?

FDA spokesperson: “Under the FD&C Act, as amended, insect/bugs are considered food if they are to be used for food or as components of food (Sec. 201 (f)).

"The use of an insect as an ingredient in food must either be regulated under a food additive regulation or be GRAS to be lawful. The FDA suggests that all food manufacturers considering the use of insect ingredients consult with the agency, given the increasing evidence of allergenicity concerns.

"Specifically to meat and poultry, in the absence of an existing regulation, the USDA will ask for a GRAS notice for the use of a new ingredient as part of their evaluation, as described in this MOU​ between the USDA and FDA." 

Source: Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies
February 2018, Volume 45, Pages 344-353, doi: 10.1016/j.ifset.2017.11.017
“Effects of formulation and process conditions on microstructure, texture and digestibility of extruded insect-riched snacks”
Authors: D. Azzollini et al.

Related topics: Alternative proteins, Science, Snacks

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