Beetle larvae, such as mealworms, are often considered to be creepy, crawly nuisances. But these insects are edible and could be a healthful alternative to traditional meat protein sources. Today, researchers report that they’ve cooked up mealworms with sugar, creating a ‘meat-like’ flavoring. It could someday be used in convenience foods as a tasty source of extra protein.
As the world’s population continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, the question of how to sustainably feed all of those people becomes increasingly pressing. According to the United Nations, by 2050, the global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion, and by 2100, it could be as high as 11 billion. Feeding that many people, especially with a diet that includes large amounts of animal protein, will require a tremendous amount of resources, including food, water, and land.
One of the most pressing concerns when it comes to feeding the world’s population is the environmental impact of traditional sources of animal protein, particularly cows, pigs, and sheep. These animals require large amounts of food and water to sustain, and their waste products can put a strain on ecosystems and contribute to the deterioration of soil and water quality. In addition, cows, in particular, are a significant contributor to climate change, releasing copious amounts of methane through their burps. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the warming of the planet.
Given these challenges, it’s clear that we need to find more sustainable sources of protein. Some possible solutions include plant-based alternatives, such as soy, peas, and lentils, as well as alternative sources of animal protein, such as insects and lab-grown meat. Additionally, new technologies and farming practices such as precision agriculture, vertical farming and regenerative agriculture could help in reducing the environmental footprint of traditional animal farming while increasing the yield.
The future of feeding the world’s population is uncertain, but it’s clear that we need to be creative and proactive in finding sustainable solutions. With a growing population, the need for food production has never been greater. And as we navigate the challenges of feeding an ever-growing population, we must consider not only the quantity of food we produce, but also the quality and sustainability of that food.
The Benefits of Insects
Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high amounts of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber and high-quality protein, which is like that of meat. Eating insects has become of interest because of the increasing cost of animal protein, as well as environmental issues and global population growth. Mealworms have been identified as one of the best insect species for a potential human diet due to their high levels of essential amino acids and minerals. Additionally, farming mealworms is more sustainable than other livestock production options, since raising them requires less land use and minimal input costs.
Cooking Up Mealworms
Researchers have now developed an easy-to-use method for transforming whole mealworms into an edible form that’s suitable for incorporation into convenience foods and snacks. The team combined wholemeal flour with sugar and then added dehydrated wholemeal worms before blending everything together in a food processor. This created what they call “milled worm powder” (MWP) which has the appearance and consistency of ground beef or pork mince — making it ideal for use in burgers or sausages. The team also found that MWP had a similar nutritional profile to beef mince with good levels of iron and zinc – two important minerals often lacking in vegetarian diets – plus fats from unsaturated fatty acids which are beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Mealworm powder could provide consumers with an alternative source of healthy proteins for their diets while reducing the environmental burden associated with animal production systems. While it might take some time to overcome cultural barriers about eating insects, this new cooking technique could help make mealworm consumption more palatable—and eventually commonplace—for people around the world looking for tasty but healthy alternatives to traditional meats.