Cricket noodles seek space in the Argentine diet

For their nutritional benefits, crickets and a wide variety of insects are consumed all over the world. In Argentina, several institutions are working to ensure that food legislation includes them. Meanwhile, they make high-protein cereal bars, muffins, and pasta.

More than 2,000 species of insects serve as food for people all over the world. In recent years, FAO and the European Union have promoted the inclusion of insects in the diet for its nutritional, socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

In Argentina, different universities, INTA and INTI are investigating the production of crickets for human consumption and point out that it represents a great opportunity for the food industry. Insect-based food products have been approved for feed the cattle and are already appearing as a source of protein for humans in the form of breads, cereal bars and pasta.

The consumption of insects in the human diet

The consumption of insects and their derivatives is called entomophagy and has been practiced around the world for decades. In recent years, research on the subject has come a long way. In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, better known as FAO, highlighted that consumption of insects can contribute to food security and the environment.”, explained Julieta Di Meglio, a graduate of the International Masters in Food Technology —MITA, from the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA (FAUBA) and the University of Parma, Italy—. In his thesis he addressed the case of the cricket Gryllus Assimilis.

Both consumption and production of crickets have attractive characteristics. They have a protein content close to 60% — cereals have about 15% — as well as essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. They are very versatile. They can be processed and incorporated as a powder into various products such as cereal bars, baked goods and pasta to improve their nutritional properties.”, he highlighted.

crickets, food, proteins, insects, alternative foods, FAO
“Functional foods are those that have a high content of some nutrient that is good for the body. Many insects fall into this group” (G. Gallardo)

Production of crickets for food

Regarding their reproduction and reproduction, they can feed on different substrates and practically transform everything they consume into biomass. “They grow very fast, take up little space, consume little water and food, and emit very few greenhouse gases.”, highlighted Gabriela Gallardo, director of Di Meglio’s work and researcher at INTA’s Institute of Food Technology, who participated in the elaboration of the Report ‘Production of insects for human consumption’ of the CONICET Food Safety Network.

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To date, neither the National Service for Agri-Food Health and Quality —SENASA—, nor the Argentine Food Code —the legislation that regulates the commercialization of all foods, beverages and food additives at the national level— contemplates the creation, slaughter, commercialization or insect consumption. Gallardo said the report was an important step in advancing his legislation. “Meanwhile, at INTA and INTI we are jointly developing food prototypes with cricket powder. We’ve made cakes, cereal bars and managed to make pasta with more than 20% protein”. In the pasta that we find in the supermarket, this value is 7%.

The law for the quality leap

Di Meglio said that in Europe and the United States, once insects were allowed as food, their industrial production multiplied, especially crickets. “There are robotic sheds with automated production. Consumption has also increased. In countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, they eat cricket-based burgers.”.

In this sense, he added that in Argentina there is great interest in producing cricket powder, both from INTA, INTI and universities, as well as from investors and companies. Julieta clarified that the objective is not to replace the consumption of traditional proteins, such as beef, poultry or pork, but to have more alternatives.

In closing, Julieta said that the incorporation of a chapter on entomophagy in the Food Code is progressing slowly. “The last presentation was made in December 2019. Among the latest developments on the subject, SENASA provided a regulatory framework for small insect producers to increase the scale of their production to produce animal feed”.

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