Beetle burgers or cricket snacks? Insect-based food on Aberystwyth research menu
18 December 2020
Crickets and beetles could become a common part of our diets, thanks to new academic research.
Insects are a common feature of people’s everyday diets in countries around the world, such as Mexico, China and Ghana.
These insect-based foods offer a more environmentally-friendly source of protein than many other food stuffs, and could help feed the world’s growing population.
Aberystwyth University is Wales’ contribution to an international project, ‘ValuSect’, which aims to improve the sustainable production and processing techniques of insect-based products.
ValuSect, which stands for ‘Valuable Insects’, is a consortium of partners coordinated by Thomas More University in Belgium and supported by a €2,08m grant from the INTERREG North-West Europe programme.
Countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium are further ahead than others in Europe when it comes to insect production and processing. The research findings will be shared with food and agriculture businesses across northern Europe.
As part of the project, Welsh businesses who are interested in insect production and processing for food can apply for support worth up to €40,000 in services. Applications close at the end of this month.
Aberystwyth University and BIC Innovation, with the support of the Welsh Government, are working with partners from 6 other countries in the North West region of Europe.
Commenting on the project, Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “It is fantastic news that Wales is playing its part in this international research and innovation project. Our Welsh partners bring both academic excellence in sustainable agriculture and commercialisation expertise to ensure that our agri-food supply chain is fully engaged in this important area. The Well-being of Future Generations Act has “A Globally Responsible Wales” as one of its underpinning goals and the aims of this project are fully aligned with this goal. Moreover, Wales’ participation underlines our commitment to international relations and collaborations as we remain most definitely open for business, despite current challenges.”
Professor Alison Kingston-Smith, from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University added:
“With a rising global population, the world needs more sources of sustainable food. Insects could be one of those. This project is a great chance for the Welsh agriculture and food sector to diversify into new markets. The vouchers, worth tens of thousands of Euros in support, are open to enterprises and actors from the whole supply chain.
“This research fits neatly with the University’s recently-opened Future Foods Centre on our Innovation Campus. There’s no doubt that insect protein is an increasing focus in the food sector, and our researchers will be part of those exciting developments.”
Research indicates that approximately 30% of EU consumers are willing to eat insect-based food. ValuSect aims to increase this number by improving the quality of insect production and processing, carrying out consumer tests, and reducing its environmental impact. Research will focus on the emission of greenhouse gasses, the impact of substrates, food safety and on the shelf life of insect-based food products.
The project will use species that already have an application running for authorisation under the EU novel food regulation.
Linda Grant, Director of Food Projects at BIC Innovation, commented, “We are delighted to be involved in this collaboration project. We work with small and medium-sized businesses engaged in R&D across a number of sectors, and sustainable agriculture is key element of this work. Whilst insect-based food products are still a niche market, there is a growing acceptance that insects will be part of a future sustainable diet capable of feeding the world’s growing population at a time of increasingly scarce agricultural resources. This project will help Welsh small and medium-sized businesses collaborate with leading experts from across North West Europe, and innovate and commercialise new products ensuring access to this new market.”
Dr Geoffrey Knott, who studied at Aberystwyth University, is Managing Director and Co-Founder of HOP, a business that produces cricket protein bars. He added:
“HOP’s mission is giving individuals more control over their long-term health and wellbeing through the foods they eat. Currently HOP sells sports nutrition products made from crickets. We use crickets because they provide superior quality protein than plants and are more sustainable and ethically farmed than traditional animal sources. We launched our first cricket protein bar in late 2019 and it’s been incredibly well received amongst adventurous and eco-minded sports people.
“I have also started another company called edibl which is building edible-insect farms to provide local, high-quality, sustainable and ethically farmed food. We use insects as bio-converters by recovering the valuable nutrients from local food waste streams, initially being piloted in Zone 2, London.”