Vegan trend boosts potential for insect protein in food products

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

 Netherlands-based Protifarm produces sustainable, high protein insect ingredients for the food industry
Netherlands-based Protifarm produces sustainable, high protein insect ingredients for the food industry

Related tags Protifarm vegan Protein plant-based

The explosion in interest in all things plant-based is opening doors for the insect protein market, says Protifarm CEO Tom Mohrmann.

Speaking at the 11th European edition of the Sustainable Food Summit ​in Amsterdam, Mohrmann said that when Protifarm started out in 2007 plant-based was “now and then​” in the news. “Today it’s overwhelming​,” he told the audience. “Wherever you go it’s all about plant-based these days. And that’s a good thing because I strongly believe this whole plant-based movement is our red carpet. It’s opening doors for our business. And that’s why we’re happy with this movement from big companies stepping in to plant-based.”

The interest in plant-based was so great, he added, that it even “might end up having the opposite reaction from consumers​”.

Exploring the potential of sustainable insect protein in ‘recognisable’ food products

Insects are often heralded as a sustainable source of protein. Netherlands-based Protifarm produces what it describes as large quantities of sustainable, high quality insect ingredients for the food industry. It uses the buffalo beetle species, also known as the lesser mealworm, to produce buffalo powder, a nutritionally dense ingredient that has a wide range of applications.

The powder product can be used to create recognisable dishes such as burgers, pasta and pasta sauces, noted Mohrmann. The buffalo beetle offers a protein and fatty acid structure comparable to beef. The buffalo beetle’s larvae consist of 35% dry matter of which 60-85% is crude protein.

“The reason we’ve chosen this specific creature is firstly because it tastes delicious. The second is its functionality; otherwise, the food industry cannot work with it. Lastly, it’s affordable​.” This was important, he said, at a time when many in the industry doubted the long-term viability of much-hyped but expensive plant-based products on the market.

The buffalo powder is also being used to create protein porridge, granola and protein bars. “We know that for a lot of people moving into plant based in sports nutrition they all complain about one thing: quality of protein. The solution is there​,” he said.

Insect production is highly suitable to vertical farming’

Protifarm is using vertical farming to scale up operations and stay affordable, explained the CEO.

“If you want to make products affordable you have to produce them on a large scale​.” Insect production is highly suitable to vertical farming, he explained, which enables the company to produce more protein per square meter. The automated feeding process allows for an optimized feed distribution during the growth cycle and eliminates feed waste. All breeding, feeding and handling processes are performed by software-driven robotics with only minimal guidance from a team of dedicated operators.

Insects offer a solution to some the world’s current problems’

Why is the vegan trend helping his company? “We’re bridging two worlds​,” he explained. “We offer the same quality as meat proteins. On the other hand we can be at least as sustainable as plant based.”

Whether vegans choose to eat insect-based ingredients depends on the individual, he added. “Even the strict vegan that is really on the side of animal welfare believes that this is a better solution than using so much land for other animals.”

Insects will play an important role in solving the world’s food problems, predicted Mohrmann. The buffalo beetle, is naturally high in protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins, added Mohrmann, containing nine essential amino acids and a natural source of Omega 3. Production of the ingredient creates limited GHS emissions, and has low land and water use.

At Protifarm we believe we need to eat more effectively for both for the good of our own bodies and everything that lives on the planet​.”

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