Virginia Tech faculty researching and testing insect protein

Faculty at Virginia Tech’s Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center are working to develop alternative and sustainable food sources in the form of insect protein.

Mainstream insect consumption is gaining steam. Recent figures estimate that 2,111 species of insects are consumed in about 140 countries. In November 2021, the European Commission authorized Locusta migratoria (migratory locust) as a novel food to be placed on the market. This is the second authorization of an insect as a novel food in Europe — the first being dried yellow mealworms, which was adopted in July 2021. 

Insects consumption is here in the U.S. too. It has even found its way into America’s pastime. At T-Mobile Park in Seattle, baseball fans can purchase chapulines, toasted grasshoppers dusted with chile-lime salt seasoning.

Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Magazine (CALS Magazine) recently published an article documenting the progress of the faculty’s testing and eating of certain insects. The faculty’s goal is to develop alternative and sustainable food sources.

According to Reza Ovissipour, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Food Science and Technology and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, beyond its nutritional value, the consumption of bugs is a potential boost for the economy and the planet. 

Ovissipour began the insect protein project in 2018. Currently, there are seven, edible insects in their lab without modification, but other insects are being converted into proteins and incorporated into bars and cookies with various flavors. The lab’s favorite flavor is barbeque.

Ovissipour says that though the lab doesn’t prefer the taste of the insects by themselves, he makes the point that they also don’t like the taste of seafood, beef or poultry by themself either. 

Eating insects for a healthier planet
“Blending our current agricultural practices with insect-based protein will increase the food supply to meet demand while reducing pressure on natural resources,” Ovissipour said. “Eating bugs is good for the Earth. It is good for the environment, and it is good for your health.”

Making the process even more environmentally friendly, Ovissipour’s lab uses agricultural byproducts that would otherwise be thrown away to feed the insects, and edible bugs can be used in animal feed.

According to Ovissipour, new research suggests this source of protein may mitigate several health problems, including hypertension.

The next step
The research team has been working with large companies and insect producers across the country to put the products on the market.

Ovissipour listed some of the insects already on store shelves: such as crickets, silkworms, scorpions, mealworms, sago worms and Junebugs.

“When I go to the grocery store, I have these options, and they are all good sources of protein. They are good for your health, and they are tasty,” Ovissipour said. “My hope is that edible insects and insect protein products will soon become an option, too.”

The full CALS Magazine article can be found here.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)