It's time to start looking at cockroaches differently, as you may find them in your food very soon—not walking over your leftovers, but mixed into everyday dishes.
Two scientists from the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil have developed a flour made of cockroaches that contains 40 percent more protein than normal wheat flour.
Food engineering students Andressa Lucas and Lauren Menegon discovered a new way of producing cheaper yet still nutritious food with the cockroach flour, since it contains a large amount of essential amino acids and some lipids and fatty acids as well—the keys for a balanced and healthy human diet.
The cockroaches in question are not the ones we see running (or even flying—AHHHHH!) in our houses, though. They are the species Nauphoeta cinerea, a different one than we find in city sewers or drains. Researchers buy the insects from a specialized breeder, where they are hygienically produced and fed on fruits and vegetables to meet all hygiene requirements required by ANVISA, the Brazilian health surveillance agency.
The study supervisor, professor Myrian Salas Mellado, says that ten percent of the cockroach flour could replace wheat flour in a given recipe, so cockroach flour bread loaves keep the same flavor as their non-insect counterparts.
MUNCHIES spoke with the students responsible for the study about the future of cockroach-infused food.
MUNCHIES: How long have you been working on this project? Andressa Lucas and Lauren Menegon: We began to develop our research in 2014 as a final paper project. We graduated [with degrees] in food engineering from the Federal University of Rio Grande and decided to continue the project since we obtained excellent results. We also had some sponsorship from a company that develops food technologies using insects as raw material, so we decided to keep up with our researches.
How did you come up with the idea of using cockroaches? Did you test others insects? Insects are exceptionally effective in converting what they eat in nutritional structures that can be consumed by humans. Since they are rich sources of protein, they can enrich the human diet, especially for people suffering from malnutrition, and their consumption can help reduce the negative environmental impacts of livestock, since it requires less space and generate less pollution, so these factors were enough to convince us to start the research.
We chose the cockroach because it was the insect that had the highest protein content—almost 70 percent. It contains eight of the nine essential amino acids, it has high-quality fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-9) and we can use almost 100 percent of it, with very little residue. Today we are studying the use of crickets and mealworm beetles.
The cockroaches you use are sanitized and bred in laboratories, but some people are still hesitant about eating them. There are people who still resist the idea when we talk about the use of insects in food. This is a cultural issue, and since we do not have this habit [of eating insects] in Brazil, we believe it will take a long time for people to accept it. In the future the greatest challenge for mankind will be to produce food in ever greater quantities, and insects can be an important source. Maybe if we used other insects instead of cockroaches, the reaction would be different, but as we use them to make flour and it is impossible to identify which insect was used, we decided to take the risk.
Do people enjoy the breads baked with the cockroach flour? Everybody who has tasted our breads are unanimous in saying that the change in taste is almost imperceptible. When added in products with more ingredients, such as a cake or the cereal bar, the change in taste is even less noticeable.
But what happened when you told them it's cockroach flour? Most people choose not to taste it!
What are the nutritional gains of the cockroach flour? At the end of the study we concluded that the bread in which we added 10 percent of cinerea cockroach flour presented a protein increase of 49.16 percent in relation to the bread that was prepared only with white flour.
What would be the other culinary applications to the cockroach flour? Is it good for cakes, pies, and pizzas? The flour can be added to any food formulation, whether homemade or industrial: Just add a small amount to get a great protein enrichment.
Many people are still disgusted by the thought of consuming insects. How do you think this can change? The UN estimates that by 2050 there will be no land area available for food production to supply the entire population of the world. In the case of insect breeding, smaller spaces are used and it is is an extremely ecological production because much less water is used and the insects produce fewer gases [contributing] to the greenhouse effect than the cattle. In the end of the process, we are also able to use the insect in its totality, which doesn't happen with cattle because many parts are not used for human consumption. Today this is not yet a reality, but in the future people will need to get used to this idea.
How do you think scientists and cooks can work together to accelerate this process of adaptation? We believe that the only way is to insist on this idea! The more people we can reach, the better. It's an ant job. [Laughs] Some time ago, people in Brazil didn't consume Japanese food because they used to think it was kind of weird. Now, it's a habit for many people. We only have to face our prejudice to adopt a new food habit.
Do you see cockroaches differently now when you find one walking around your house? We continue to be disgusted by them. [Laughs] But as we speak, the cockroach we use is of another species than [the kind] that is found at home. The ones we find at home indicate dirt, unlike our insects that are bred in such a way as to meet all hygienic requirements. So we are allowed to keep feeling disgusted by the house roaches.
Thanks for speaking with me.