Insect-enriched bread could answer consumer demand for high proteins: Study

By Gill Hyslop

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Adding cricket powder to bread enriches its nutrient composition - especially the protein content. Pic: ©GettyImages/premkh/PetrP
Adding cricket powder to bread enriches its nutrient composition - especially the protein content. Pic: ©GettyImages/premkh/PetrP

Related tags Bread Insects Research Protein Amino acids Bacteria

A new study from Italy finds edible insect powder can be successfully incorporated into leavened baked goods to improve their nutritional trait, but there is a downside.

Researchers from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona have found that adding 10% cricket powder to bread substantially enhances its nutritional traits​ – especially the protein content and essential amino acids – and does not have too much of a negative effect on the dough’s technological and organoleptic parameters.

However, the scientists noted the presence of bacterial spores — a dormant state of some types of bacteria — that could potentially spoil the bread or even make people sick.

The scientists did overcome this hurdle, though, through the use of preventive treatments like blenching or microwave drying the insect powder before adding it to the bread.

Beyond the icky factor

Insects are consumed by 2.5 billion people worldwide, and their high nutritional value has been attracting the attention of researchers and the food industry.

Eating insects is also good for the environment as they take much less space and other resources than other livestock, while introducing them to the daily diet would relieve the pressure on food resources expected to reach critical mass by 2050.

Eating insects is a customary practice in Asia and Africa, but their acceptance in the US and Western European countries is still far from being achieved.

However, a 2017 study published in Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies ​concluded that foods where insects are not directly visible could be more acceptable​ by consumers unable to overcome the so-called ‘icky’ factor.

To see if insect-enriched bread would be feasible, the Italian scientists baked three experimental loaves using different blends of wheat flour and a commercially available powder made from crickets in amounts of 0%, 10% and 30%.

“The main goal of the study was to mask the presence of insects in everyday foods by using powders instead of whole insects,”​ said study senior author and food microbiologist Lucia Aquilanti.

The pluses and minuses

The raw materials, doughs and breads were all subjected to technological, microbiological, chemical and sensory analyses.

The researchers found that the more cricket powder there was in the experimental bread loaves, the less the dough rose and the firmer the bread was.

This was likely because the breads made with cricket powder had less flour, and thus less gluten, which helps bread rise and make it chewy, they noted.

Cricket bread
The more cricket powder, the darker the bread

However, they established that the addition of 10% cricket powder produced a dough suitable for breadmaking.

The breads containing cricket powder also showed a higher nutritional profile than the control bread, due to their fatty acid composition, a high protein content and the presence of essential amino acids, namely threonine, tyrosine, valine and methionine and lysine.

Finally, bread enriched with 10% cricket powder showed a discrete appreciation by untrained panelists, which, said the researchers, could be potentially be increased by the addition of natural bread improvers, such as  enzymes and sugars.

On the downside, though, they noted a high load of spore-forming bacteria in the breads containing cricket powder, which highlighted potential safety issues for consumers. But, as this can be easily corrected, they concluded that edible insect powder can successfully be included in leavened baked goods to enhance its protein content.

The authors said further studies are needed to better understand the interactions between cereal-based matrices and insect powders, and to adjust the insect powder composition to obtain a better balanced product regarding fat content.

The study – partly financed by the Marche Polytechnic University under the “Edible insects: new frontiers in food-FOODIN” project – was published in Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies.

Aquilanti also noted the researchers had experimented with other insect powders in bread and found “the final flavor is extremely dependent on the species.”​ For instance, bread made from mealworm powder “has a very nice nutty flavor,”​ she said.


Bread enriched with cricket powder (Acheta domesticus): A technological, microbiological and nutritional evaluation

Andrea Osimani; Vesna Milanović; Federica Cardinali; Andrea Roncolini; Cristiana Garofalo; Francesca Clementi; Marina Pasquini; Massimo Mozzon; Roberta Foligni; Nadia Raffaelli; Federica Zamporlini; Lucia Aquilanti

Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 2018 48(150-163);

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Insect rearing and processing determines ingredient microbiological quality and final product quality (just like with any food ingredient)

Posted by Lee Cadesky,

The results of this paper are pretty unsurprising but shouldn't be taken as an indication of the quality of insect ingredients. The most telling point in this article is the materials and methods section: "Cricket powder was purchased from a producer located in Thailand... as reported by the producer, crickets used to produce powder were fed a diet of mixed grains and vegetables; no other information was available on the rearing of crickets as well as hygiene conditions during powder processing, transport and storage before purchasing."

Ingredients made from insects are just like other ingredients, product quality = f(raw material quality). As reported in the paper, spore-forming bacterial loads in the cricket flour were already high (5.52 log) and without data on the rearing and processing it's impossible to know why. The conclusion of this paper should have been obvious from the start and may as well read, "making products with contaminated ingredients leads to contaminated products". Food manufacturers should pay attention to incoming ingredient microbiological quality regardless of the ingredient origin. Any manufacturer receiving a CofA for a product with these microbial specs would reject it at the dock and find a new supplier! This is basic food safety and applies to all food, insect or otherwise.

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Contamination from insect powder could be life-threatening.

Posted by Mary Krause,

Do you have a list of bread & other product manufacturers who add 'cricket powder' or other insect ingredients? Enormous studies of feeding insects to humans, should be funded before products like this are marketed. This is especially true if the insects are too small to be seen, in bread or any other item. Larvae, too small to be seen, could infest a person's or other creature's intestinal tract & cause extremely severe infections, of a type not expected by doctors & other health care professionals. Often insects are eaten by mistake, contamination, not be deliberate choice.

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