Researchers Explore Edible Insect Powders in 3D Printed Salty Snacks

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Given the significant impact that industrial farming of animals has on both the livelihood of those creatures and the Earth itself, there is a growing movement to turn to new sources of protein, such as insects. There could possibly be no better time to consider eating bugs than the current cicada infestation taking place in the Midwestern U.S. However, getting your average Midwesterner to eat an insect is much harder than you might think. Just ask my four-year-old kid. For that reason, some researchers have been exploring the incorporation of powdered insect protein into foods.

While such ingredients as cricket flour are a potential method for introducing more bug meat into one’s diet, the incorporation of insect powder into baked goods can potentially alter the dough’s technological and sensory attributes. A recent study conducted by researchers at Universitat Rovira i Virgili aimed to investigate these alterations and examine the texture of salty snacks produced using a food 3D printer.

The study used different amounts of two types of edible insect powders: lesser mealworms (Alphitobius diaperinus) and migratory locusts (Locusta migratoria), mixed with chickpea flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, curry powder, and salt. Using a Focus 3D Food Printer from byFlow in the Netherlands, the team printed salty snacks that were then baked at 180°C for 12 minutes using the ventilation mode of a vapor oven.

Flow curves of chickpea dough enriched with edible. a Alphitobius diaperinus. b Locusta migratoria powders.

The researchers discovered that the doughs became less sticky under pressure, a common trait in foods like ketchup or yogurt. This decrease in stickiness was predictable and matched a known scientific pattern. The doughs with more insect powder became thicker and stickier, especially those with locust powder.

When examining how the doughs behaved under stress, the researchers found that the doughs behaved more akin to stretchy solids rather than liquids. This stretchiness increased with more insect powder, making the dough stiffer. Interestingly, dough with locust powder was more elastic, making it harder to print using a food printer.

Texture tests applied. a Bending test. b Penetration test

The texture of the snacks made with mealworm powder showed that they became harder to break as more insect powder was added. The texture was similar to the control sample (without insect powder) and the sample with a small amount of insect powder. Additionally, snacks with mealworm powder were crunchier.

Previous studies have explored various aspects of incorporating insect powders into food products. For instance, one study found that adding ground house cricket to oat biscuits improved their nutritional quality without significantly affecting texture. Another study successfully identified commercial insect powders using infrared spectroscopy and multivariate analysis, demonstrating the potential for authenticating insect-based ingredients in food products. Additionally, research has shown that hydrolyzing whole crickets can improve their functional properties, making them suitable as alternative protein sources in food formulations.

The current study builds on these earlier findings by exploring the specific effects of different insect powders on dough and snack properties. The increased viscosity and pseudoplasticity observed in doughs with higher insect powder concentrations align with the improved functional properties reported in previous studies. The enhanced crispiness and texture profile of snacks containing A. diaperinus also support the potential for insect powders to improve sensory attributes in food products.

While the use of 3D printing serves a key practical purpose in such fields as aerospace, where a jet engine can be made lighter to use less fuel, the exact purpose of additive manufacturing for food is still being realized. In many cases, the ability to create complex geometries with foodstuff can add aesthetic appeal, but more significant justification for the technology is less immediate.

Here, we see a more realistic application. Balancing humanity’s need for protein and the impact of industrial activity on the planet could drive the market for edible insects. Some cultures may be more inclined to eat traditionally prepared insects, but other audiences, particularly in Europe and North America may need to see the protein prepared in such novel ways as with 3D printing in order to get on board. In this way, we might imagine insect ingredients emerge as an alternative to both alt-meat and meat 3D printing.

Images courtesy of Food and Bioprocess Technology.

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