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A few years ago, Clara Best, a bright strategist at Pepsico, joined the growing group of flexitarians and decided to adopt a more plant-based diet. But I struggled with the options available, she said. The vegan burger seemed overly processed. Cooking with traditional alternatives like tofu and tempeh feels daunting to me. And the pulses made her feel bloated. To supplement protein, she looked to a new solution: insects.
First, she crushes mealworms, which are essentially beetles in larval form, on granola, pasta and soup. They are high in protein and available at Eat Grub and Crunchy Critters. She then switched to raising crickets, which are similarly rich in nutrients, especially protein. Mindful of the health benefits and the growing meat alternative market, she left Pepsico and began developing a line of cricket-enhanced foods to help people transition to more sustainable diets. Earlier this year, Saving Food launched its first product, a lentil flour-based snack with added crickets. Available in flavors including black pepper and smoked paprika, each 25g pack contains 2g of cricket protein, equivalent to one egg. They have a wonderful flavor, the earthy taste of crickets is indistinguishable from other flavors. Best calls puff pastry a good entry product for Western consumers looking for crickets as a potential protein source. Since then, she has soft-launched a product line expansion that includes protein powders, pastas and cricket meat substitutes.
Crickets and other insect proteins are a powerful new ingredient. As a meat alternative, they have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional meat by up to 97%. But there are obstacles. Besides the cost (a pack of six retails for 6.99), there’s also the wow factor. Despite being a staple in Asian and African cuisine for centuries, insects continue to be a tough sell to Western consumers.
Insects are part of a larger category of foods called alternative proteins that are sold as more sustainable alternatives to meat and dairy. Among other environmental benefits, alternative protein production typically requires less water and land and causes fewer greenhouse gas emissions. However, in matters of health and ethics, there are many different opinions. Some draw the line between insects and other alternative proteins, since insects are still animals. Best points out that her insects are killed humanely (i.e. they are frozen, unconscious, and the way they die is painless).
Plant-based meat substitutes have also been criticized for being overly processed. Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of ProVeg International, an organization that raises awareness of alternative protein foods, sees these characteristics as an attempt by the meat and dairy industries to discredit their products. plant-based meat substitutes. She argues that these generally have superior or equivalent nutritional content and are no more processed than comparable meat products.
Alternative proteins also include fermented foods. These can be traditional fermented foods like tempeh; biomass fermented foods are based on fast-growing microorganisms such as microalgae or fungal mycelium and include Quorn grown from a filamentous fungus; and precision fermentation products in which microorganisms are programmed like factories to produce flavor molecules and fats, among other things.
One type of alternative protein attracting a lot of venture capital today is cultured meat (sometimes called lab-grown meat), which is meat produced directly from cells. Recent studies show that compared to conventional beef, cultivated meat can cause up to 92% less global warming and use 95% less land and 78% less water. The first cultivated burger was launched in 2013 by Mark Post of Maastricht University. But until recently, the only place you could eat farmed meat was Hubers Butchery and Bistro in Singapore, where regulators approved Eat Justs farmed chicken in 2020. After the USDA approved Upside’s products and Good Meat this year (a watershed moment for the industry), farmed chicken is on the menu at Dominique Crenns Meatless Bar Crenn in San Francisco (fried in Yucatan-spiced tempura batter) and Jos Andrs China Chilcano in Washington DC (like anticuchos kebab).
In the UK, Aleph Farms became the first company to seek approval from the UK Food Standards Agency this August for its cultured beef steak product. This process can take up to 18 months. However, according to Atova’s Hannah Lester, the EU’s unaudited, regulatory consultation process could be complicated for some member states. France has just introduced a ban on applying meat-related terms such as steak to plant-based products. Italy is pursuing a ban on all synthetic foods (including powders derived from insects). She said it would be highly political.
Lester is also the head of legal at Paris-based startup Gourmey, which aims to produce restaurant-grade meats, starting with foie gras (currently under review for approval in the US and Singapore). Among other attractive prospects for luxury consumers are Orbillion Bios’ portfolio of heritage meats from wagyu to elk; Magic Caviar Beluga Caviar; Wildtypes sushi salmon; and Cultured Maine Lobster. Not to mention Mission Barn’s quest to grow kosher bacon. If consumers accept these foods, the results could be very appealing.
#eat #crispy #crickets
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