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Not a burger for the faint hearted

Published: October 13, 2016

Duchy College Rosewarne | Stoke Climsland research

Diners at restaurants around the UK could one day face a choice between chicken, beef, fish, pork or mealworms. The wriggly larvae of an insect could one day dominate supermarket shelves as a more sustainable alternative to traditional farm meats, according to a scientist at Duchy College Stoke Climsland.

Jaen-Pierre Barendse (JP), a student on the FdSc in Food Studies at Duchy College has been conducting research into the protein levels contained inside the insects and comparing them to the more traditional protein sources.

JP said: “What got me thinking about this research in the first place was my children and what the future holds in store for them.  Thinking that this planet could sustain the food needs for the exponential growth rate of humans would be naïve.  Sustaining animal protein farming is not viable when it comes to feeding a global population.”

Currently, livestock use about 70 percent of all farmland. In addition, the demand for animal protein continues to rise globally, and is expected to grow by up to 80 percent between now and 2050.

JP continued: “When considering that producing one kilogram of beef may use as much as 15 000L of water and could produce as much as 28 kilograms of CO2 gas.  These are just a few reasons why considering supplementing meat consumption with alternative protein sources such as insects is important.”

JP’s research consisted of studying peer reviewed jjournals, as well as a number of experiments in the labs at the Food Technology Building.  “I wanted to see for myself that the nutrients found in insects, including protein, are comparable to that of chicken. The results were better than I expected with meal worms being gram for gram comparable with regards to protein content to that of chicken.”

A study conducted in the Netherlands found that growing mealworms released less greenhouse gases than producing cow milk, chicken, pork and beef. They also discovered that growing mealworms takes up only about 10 percent of the land used for production of beef, 30 percent of the land used for pork and 40 percent of the land needed for chickens to generate similar amounts of protein. The researchers note that optimizing mealworm growth might lead to even more land savings.

JP added: “Mealworms would be a great supplement to the human diet as they use far less resources to rear.  They use a fraction of the land required to raise free range chickens and other live stock.  Yes, they are worms and the thought of eating them may be off putting but they could help ensure a future for our children.  Eighty percent of the world population supplements their diets with insects, so they can’t be all bad.

“Reality is that insects may never take the place of beef or chicken however; it may alleviate the pressure on earth’s resources.  There will always be a market for meat products but if we supplement our intake of these for one day a week it would make a major difference.  Developing products that would be acceptable to western societies would be a challenge, a challenge with new job opportunities and a whole new medium to work with.

Mealworms are particularly tasty when toasted in the oven and they taste just like roasted nuts or seeds.  Some people say they are particularly good covered in chocolate or sprinkled on soup.

JP concluded: “The future looks crunchy and bright if we could just look past our pre-conceived notions of disgust at the thought of eating a worm.”

Principal of Duchy College, Andrew Counsell, added: “As a human race we do need to look at an alternative food source and this research has shown that meal worms are a viable alternative.  It has been a pleasure to work with JP on his research and hopefully his findings could turn into a bigger piece of research.”

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