Buzzing: On insects & processed foods
Hello everyone, I hope you’re keeping well. Buzzing plans to go *abroad* this summer, which is as exciting as it is daunting with travel restrictions changing weekly. Anyway, normal service should continue. Follow Buzzing on Instagram for insect news from Europe.
This week in Buzzing:
Don’t relegate insects to processed food
In Other News: A graphic abstract, and France is an insect powerhouse
Test Corner: Cricket pizza dough
Yesterday, the UK published its National Food Strategy, its blueprint for tackling the obesity epidemic in the country. I think much of its findings will apply to other developed markets: too much processed foods, too much salt and sugar, and too much meat.
The strategy, which was prepared by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, says that a profound shift in our relationship with food – how we eat it, how we produce it – needs to happen. One headline recommendation is that meat consumption should be cut by 30% by 2030.
The report notes how the consumption of burgers, processed meat and ready meals overtook the consumption of cuts of meat in 1990. “The transition towards convenience food has been at least five decades in the making and will not be quickly reversed,” it concluded.
It goes on to point out that such processed or convenience foods are particularly well suited to alternative proteins. Cue all your plant-based burgers and fake meats. But while the environmental footprints of these alternatives is undeniable, their health benefits aren’t. “The Impossible Burger, for example, uses 96% less land than beef, 87% less water, and emits 89% less greenhouse gases. But it also contains a quarter of your daily allowance of salt, and just as much saturated fat as a regular burger,” notes the report.
Which brings me to insects. All research confirms that consumers unfamiliar with eating insects are much more open to the idea of trying insects if they can’t see them, ie in a cookie, burger, falafel etc. Now, I will be the first to put my hand up to say that this was me two years ago, and also to acknowledge that it has been my approach at home. Ground insects, or insect powder, have found their way into everything from pesto, to smoothies and pizza dough.
The difference is that home-made food, even decadent (cakes, pizzas etc), will always be healthier than the manufactured equivalent. Mealworm burgers are already available in some European supermarkets; there are insect protein bars, insect crackers, insect biscuits and many other insect products in development. I am not saying that these products are bad (I have tried and enjoyed many) but I am concerned that this is what insects may be relegated to: an ingredient in processed food rather than a food in its own right.
My point isn’t that it should be Japanese killer hornets or nothing (I’ll take nothing), just that if we really want to encourage people to eat less meat, we will need to broaden their food horizons, not just swap one processed food for another: how about grilled halloumi instead of veggie sausages? Or a delicious vegan curry instead of steak/fish with vegetables?
So yes, let’s have cricket crackers with our salad. Then perhaps the idea of using insect powder in the next batch of pancakes, to add flavour and nutrition, won’t feel so daunting. Next thing you know, it’ll be toasted mealworms on mushroom risotto 😉 As chef and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said in a tweet about the strategy: “Feed us better, teach us better, skill us up to cook from scratch.” Amen.
In Other News
I saw this new paperby Matos et al on the potential of Black Soldier Fly to reduce methane emissions from pig and cattle manure and I love the fact that they made a graphic abstract. What a brilliant idea - if only all scientific papers did that! I don’t think I need to add anything to it, except: when will legislation change to make this possible?
France was the second largest destination for agtech investment in 2020, thanks in great part to insects (biggest deals for Ÿnsect, InnovaFeed and nextProtein) (2021 AgFunder AgriFoodTech Investment Report).
North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture (NACIA)’s latest quarterly newsletter is out.
European food safety watchdog EFSA says that migratory locusts are safe to eat.
My lovely Labrador is old and stiff so this article about BSF’s potential for preventing and alleviating arthritis caught my eye. (Molecules).
After Auchan and Tesco, Lidl is the next supermarket chain to get in on the insect act (Les Echos, in French).
Test Corner: Cricket pizza dough
Pizza is a weekend staple in the Buzzing household. Who doesn’t like one? Also, it’s really fun to make. The kids are now seasoned pizzaiolos, and I’m pretty sure that messing around with dough, flour, passata and mozzarella is at least part of the allure of pizza night (which also usually comes complete with a movie).
Anyway, I decided to take a gamble with this family favourite and introduce cricket powder to the dough. I looked up various recipes, which suggested substituting somewhere between a quarter and a third of the strong bread flour for cricket powder. I settled for 20% for a couple of reasons. First, I thought that if I messed around too much with the sacrosanct weekend pizza, I may have a mutiny on my hands. Second, I was concerned that substituting a third of the bread flour would weaken the dough too much (there is no gluten in cricket powder).
The cricket powder significantly darkened the colour of the dough, which I had not anticipated. “Why is it brown?!” asked the kids immediately. Uh oh. I gave a quick explanation, promised it would be just as good and cracked on.
Luckily, the results bore me out. Although it came out a little darker than usual, I couldn’t really discern any difference in the crust’s texture and the flavour was spot on. I could taste the cricket powder, which, in this very Mediterranean context, faintly reminded me of tapenade (a French condiment made of black olives, capers and anchovies). The kids declared it was delicious. Phew!
Cricket pizza dough (enough for two kids’ pizzas and one large adult pizza)
320g strong bread flour
80g cricket powder
10g dried fast action yeast
30g olive oil
1 tsp salt
Mix all the ingredients; knead until you have a soft dough (confession: I have a machine that does it). Set aside in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel or cling film and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size (should take an hour or so).
Matos, J.S., de Aráujo, L.P., Allaman, I.B. et al. Evaluation of the reduction of methane emission in swine and bovine manure treated with black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens L.). Environ Monit Assess193, 480 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-021-09252-2