Buzzing: Sussing out the protein competition
Hello everyone, I hope you’re keeping well, wherever you are. The first issue of Buzzing went out almost exactly a year ago! Thank you for coming on this journey with me. ☺️
This week in Buzzing:
Sussing out the protein competition
In Other News: Menu for bugs and insect foraging holidays
Test Corner: Insect snack bars, Part One
This week, I thought I would suss out the competition. The whole reason why insects have come to the fore is that we need more environmentally-friendly sources of protein, both for animal feed and for food. It is actually an incredibly busy field, with many other novel sources of protein fighting for a share of this most lucrative market.
When I first started researching insect protein, someone mentioned that it was pointless because it would be blown out of the water by single-cell protein within a decade. At this point, I didn’t know much about that either and the thought of eating what sounded like Frankenstein food filled me with dread. I’ll have the locusts, I thought.
The reality isn’t quite as scary: single-cell protein is a broad church, which includes things we already do eat such as mycoprotein (commercially known as Quorn, a vegetarian meat alternative that’s been around since the 1980s) and micro-algae such as spirulina. These organisms are naturally occurring: scientists have just figured a way to produce them at scale. Like insects, they can be reared in space-efficient systems; their production tends to be resource efficient; and they can be grown year-round. There is a huge amount of research into finding new single-cell proteins, especially those that could be reared on waste feedstocks such as CO2 or agricultural residue.
Then there is macro-algae (or seaweed), which you typically get in Asian cuisine. It can obviously be foraged but commercially-grown algae is usually farmed in long lines in the sea. They include things like kelp and nori. Growing them requires little more than the ropes they’re grown on and the labour to harvest them but scaling up production will be an issue as expansive space along the world’s busy shorelines is at a premium.
Then there is cultured meat. I was never an enthusiastic meat eater, even when I did eat it, so the thought of a meat reared in a lab on fœtal bovine serum is frankly revolting and a guarantee I never eat it. There is also the issue of regulation (which is just about as onerous as it is for insects) and the prohibitively high cost. These aren’t insurmountable obstacles but it means that cultured meat won’t be a genuine option for a while still.
So how do insects fare by comparison? Insects are more natural/wholesome alternatives than cultured meat or highly-processed meat alternatives like mycoprotein (see my post from last week about processed food). I think this will be an important USP for insects compared to other protein sources. Equally important is the fact that insects are animal protein, which means that they contain all essential amino-acids, unlike plant-based protein.
I realise that the potential of micro-algae when it comes to scale and efficiency is unrivalled however, even compared to the largest and most optimised insect farm. Also, the need for protein is such that it won’t be a case of insects OR single cell but insects + single cell + every other type of protein we can get our hands on. So I think the person who told me I was wasting my time with insects was wrong. Buzzing has been going for a year and will keep landing in your inbox for a while still.
In other news
A couple of weeks ago, I visited AgriGrub in Soham, Cambridgeshire. They farm Black Soldier Fly and their focus is on using the larvae’s phenomenal bioconversion potential to upcycle food waste into protein. AgriGrub use fruits and vegetables that were damaged in transit and would otherwise go to landfill. The waste is shredded on delivery and then settled into large containers (pictured) before being fed to the insect. Circularity in action.
The Washington Post writes about insect farms in Europe – Horizon, Protix and Ÿnsect – all of whom have featured in Buzzing 😊
Ÿnsect hatches plan for fast food restaurants to sell insect burgers and nuggets (i newspaper).
Planning a holiday to Mexico? Go foraging for escamoles (ant eggs) (Condé Nast Traveller)
Here We Are podcast did a special episode on cicadas.
IPIFF has published a paper calling for the introduction of organic standards in insect farming.
Test corner: Insect snack bars, Part One
I don’t usually buy snack bars. Yet one of the most popular insect products on the market is snack bars, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of our forthcoming holiday to stock up and road test a few whilst in transit.
I bought a variety pack from Earth + Me with 14 bars from four different brands (£29): Isaac, Sens, Kriket and Jimini’s. I’ll review Isaac and Kriket today, and Sens and Jimini’s next time.
Isaac Oats+Insect Protein Bars
These German-made bars style themselves as “protein bars”: with each containing 20g of protein (the insects are buffalo worms), I suppose it’s a fair claim. The bars themselves are quite intimidating at 85g, by far the biggest of the four brands.
The bars are coated in dark chocolate, which gives them a very appealing look. The body of the bar is a dense, smooth, doughy paste, dotted with a few fruits and nuts depending on the flavour (hazelnut cocoa, peanut cranberry, cashew blueberry, macadamia salted caramel). I’m definitely not a fan: I found them sickly sweet and chewy, and so big that it took me three gos to finish one bar. My children on the other hand loved them. They demolished two on the plane after it turned out that their airport-bought dinner hadn’t touched the sides. And they preferred them to the Krikets.
Around €3 per bar.
Kriket Crunchy Cricket Bites
These Belgian bars are definitely what I recognise as “cereal bars” from childhood trekking trips: full of nuts, seeds, grains and as the name suggests, crickets. They are absolutely delicious: really flavoursome, with a great crunchy texture. I particularly like the large chunks of hazelnuts and the fact that most ingredients are recognisable and minimally processed (with the exception of the crickets, which you definitely cannot see). I think it’s also why my children liked them slightly less (not that they left any…) than the Isaacs. At 35g, the bars feel dainty compared to the Isaacs but are actually fairly standard in size.
Of the three flavours, my favourite is The Original, followed by Protein Boost and Cocoa Chirp. Kriket has since given their bars a re-branding, so the packaging looks slightly different and the Protein Boost has been replaced by a new flavour called Double Date. I look forward to trying it next time I need to order insect bars again.
Around €2 per bar.
Note: I buy all the products reviewed here and do not accept freebies.