The world of entomophagy isn’t just business, but research and development as well.
And the main “shrine” of this research surely is the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands: here worked the main authors of the renowned dossier from FAO, where the ONU agency recommended the adoption of entomophagy to European and North American countries, and here were born the most recent and influent researches on the use of edible insects in human nutrition.
The most recent, regarding the extraction and the properties of insect oils, was published by Daylan Tzompa-Sosa, a… dairy scientist.
We asked her how she came to study oils which can be extracted from edible insects: “I usually work on milk fats, but a year ago a collegue of mine, Liya Yi, was working on insect proteins. The extraction of proteins needs them to be de-fatted, giving oils as a by-product. I was working on oils, while she threw the, in the bin, so I asked her ”why do you do this? I’ll take care of “my” fats…” (laughs). “I was a PhD student at the time, so I asked my supervisor if I could work on insect oils as well in my free time, and he was OK with it”. So a famous article was born, where the (now) doctor Tzompa- Sosa examines the qualities of oils coming from different edible insects, and also how the extraction processes influence them. And then another one, wholly dedicated to mealworm oil.
What do you think about the state of the art of entomophagy in the Netherlands?
People aren’t used to eat insects, but they are interested in proteins. Insect flours are just flours, pasta made with these flours becomes just another protein source. Another important point is sustainability: here in the Netherlands, people are very interested in health and sustainability, and insects can be a sustainable source of fats and proteins. Then there is the different fat and amminoacid profile, which is interesting.
What about the industries and research?
At the moment there are no funds coming from companies, we’re not there yet. There are some researches, but they are mostly about proteins; one of our PhD students works on consumer behavior (towards entomophagy, author’s note). The situation, however, is changing: there’s a company called Protix which sells black soldier fly products. I’ve been contacted by a company from Indonesia, which plans to move to India: they grow black soldier fly and their main products are proteins. They wondered what to do with the fats and they asked me that.
We were also talking about the state of research.
I don’t see any particular studies about human nutrition. Now there’s a boom in coconut oil, very rich in lauric acid, about 50%. The black soldier fly oil contains about 40% of lauric acid, it’s near. Lauric acid has antimicrobial properties and a different metabolism from that of long chain fats (which can be found in olive oil and many animal fats, author’s note), it’s faster: well, here our students prepare muffins with butter and with fats extracted from black soldier fly. There are no differences between the two, just a strange aftertaste… these are the things we have the study, there is a lot of potential.
Since you work with insects, have you ever tasted them?
For me it’s different, in our culture it’s not rare to eat insects, especially from the area where I come from, in central Mexico. We eat different kinds of them, but they are delicacies, and very expensive. In my culture we eat worms and crickets because they have a good taste – if you just add an insect flour, then the taste is gone, so why do you eat them? (laughs)