Insects in the menu – investment and production prospects of Russia

Interest in the prospects and possibilities of industrial use of food, which would include components from insects, has again revived in the government. So, on January 11, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Victoria Abramchenko spoke in favor of the development of this area – with a clause that “such food should be given not to humans, but to fish.” Nevertheless, back in December 2021, a meeting of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the result of which was the decision to begin industrial development of insects for the domestic food industry, instantly brought this topic into reality – from the category of futurology and exoticism at the same time. A year later, in September 2022, the head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, during a visit to the Innofood exhibition in Sochi, advocated “working with mentality” – so that Russians adapt to food products from “alternative sources of protein” faster.

Today’s economic reality, which, as you know, has caused numerous waves of sanctions and counter-sanctions and exacerbated, thus, the problems of the country’s food security, has extremely updated all the developments in the field of expanding the resource base of the food industry. The academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Scientific Director of the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Federal Research Center of Nutrition and Biotechnology” of the Russian Federation, laureate of the Prize of the Government of Russia Viktor Alexandrovich Tutelyan spoke on the results already achieved in this sphere, which is still unusual for the average person, and in particular, about the “pitfalls” in it,

Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Viktor Tutelyan. Nina Zotina / RIA Novosti

Diet of the XXI century

– How much, in principle, can the transition to food from insects fill the need for organic protein?

– Making predictions about the structure of nutrition in the XXI century, it is fundamentally important to remember the basic principles of optimal nutrition, namely: the diet should not only meet energy needs, its chemical composition should also correspond to the physiological needs of humans in food and biologically active substances. With food, we should receive not only proteins, fats and carbohydrates, but also about 200 chemical compounds; these are macronutrients, essential trace elements, minor and biologically active substances.

The problem is that getting everything you need in your diet without excess calories is difficult; and if you consider that most processed foods have low nutritional value and high calorie content, then it is unrealistic. Therefore, the basis of the diet of a modern person are traditional products, products of specialized preventive purpose, as well as vitamin and mineral complexes.

Advanced technologies and innovative approaches to the production of food, food products, nutritive raw materials will also optimize nutrition. Food of the XXI century, in our opinion, will be represented by a combination of traditional and alternative products. For example, those obtained using new technological processes (chemical synthesis); genetically engineered-modified organisms (GMO) of plant, animal and microbial origin with the specified chemical composition. As well as products obtained using non-traditional sources (food resources of the world ocean – aquaculture; organisms that quickly grow mass – insects, microorganisms, microscopic fungi). At the same time, traditional food will always be “at the forefront.”

From the millennial Asian tradition of insect eating – into the European fashion trend

– Throughout the history of mankind, the problem of expanding the food base, including through new sources of protein, has been extremely relevant. It doesn’t matter from which sources we get all the nutrients our body needs; the main thing is that they are safe. But nutrition is probably one of the most conservative, hard-to-change habits. “Eating behavior” begins to form almost in the womb, and for most of us the best borscht was that one prepared by our mothers. Therefore, if in a given area a product does not have a history of safe use in food, this subjectively allows the product to be classified as “inedible.”

Thus, in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, South America and Australia, many species of insects already have a thousand-year history of safe consumption. They have always been part of a person’s diet. At the same time, the trend towards conscious consumption and the environmental agenda played an important role in the “acceptance” of edible insect products in the European Union, the USA and Canada.

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published the results of studies “Edible Insects: Food and Feed Safety Prospects,” indicating the outstanding food qualities of representatives of this class.

The high content of protein in the biomass of insects, which, according to various estimates, is up to 80% per dry substance, allows them to be attributed to very promising sources of protein, comparable in nutritional and biological value with products of animal origin.

Comprehensive studies of the black lion’s larva conducted by employees of the FIC of Nutrition and Biotechnology have demonstrated a high protein content in its biomass, its balanced amino acid composition and high biological value, which allows us to consider, specifically, Hermetia illucens as a potential source of complete dietary protein.

– Victor Alexandrovich, and in which countries (not counting Asian) the eating of insects is perceived no longer as exotic, but more and more commonplace?

– According to the FAO, at least 2 billion people eat 1.9 thousand types of insects. If we talk about countries that do not have a history of food use of insects, then in a number of EU countries, in the USA, Canada, the consumption of edible insects is not massive, but has become a modern trend determined by concern for the environment. For this category of consumers, eating insects is an environmentally conscious choice.

Products from dry crushed biomass of insects are especially popular, these products are consumed by mixing them with traditional food products (EFSA, 2019).

The second largest share in the global production of edible insect products belongs to protein bars.

Priority for insects – facing the hydrocarbon crisis

– Is there any danger that the new direction will also carry the hydrocarbon load?

– Of course, modern intensive agricultural production affects negatively the ecology of the planet. However, insects consume far fewer resources: Producing 1kg of edible protein from an insect requires 10 times less land than growing 1kg of beef protein. Insects also emit significantly less greenhouse gases, consume much less water than most animals.

Insects are characterized by high fertility, growth intensity, they can be grown all year round in a confined space. Edible insects are not only a source of protein, but also of fatty acids, dietary fibers, vitamins, minerals, although the nutrient composition depends on the species of the insect, the stage of development, etc. That is why the FAO calls on all countries to pay closer attention to edible insects, because almost 70% of the Earth’s surface has already been given to agricultural land. In light of the new global challenges that create a disproportionate burden on the planet’s ecosphere, the cultivation and consumption of insects is one possible way to refocus traditional agriculture in line with sustainable development principles that will minimize environmental impacts.

– What advantages of insect-containing food considering amino acids and vitamins would you note?

– Conventional method in assessing the nutritional and biological value of new food sources is a comparative analysis with the chemical composition of products of animal and plant origin, which are considered traditional sources of relevant macro– and micronutrients. To ensure the comparability of the analyzed indicators, the degree of processing and other factors are taken into account.

The study of the nutritional value of larval biomass conducted at the FIC of nutrition and biotechnology demonstrated a high protein and fat content of 39% and 38%, respectively, while ash, dietary fiber and carbohydrates accounted for less than 20%. The amino acid profile was balanced in the content of essential amino acids and was comparable to chicken egg protein, as well as other animal products. The fatty acid composition of the biomass was characterized by a relatively high content of lauric acid (39.9% of the total fatty acid content), also found in some fruits and seeds of tropical plants.

The ratio of the remaining acids was more consistent with the fatty acid profile of the fish oil. The content of carotenoids, tocopherol and thiamine in the biomass of H. illucens larvae was significantly inferior to foods that are traditionally sources of these vitamins. Based on the analysis of the mineral composition, the test product can be classified as source of calcium, iron, copper and chromium.

In terms of the content of the above elements, as well as magnesium and zinc, the dry biomass of the larvae significantly exceeded the main food products of animal origin (beef, eggs, fish and seafood). Moreover, the content of potassium and phosphorus was comparable to them.

– How difficult can restructuring the food industry be in the near future?

– I cannot but admit that the interest of Russian producers in insects as a source of food and feed ingredients is very high. Now in Russia, enterprises for the entomoproduction for animals are successfully functioning. From a technical point of view, it is quite possible to establish the production of such products on an industrial scale for food purposes. However, it is too early to talk about the possibility of selling such products on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The state regulation of the use of food products of a new type in the Russian Federation provides for research confirming the safety of these food products for human life and health. The development of a program of such studies in accordance with the established practice, drawn up in the form of guidelines of Rospotrebnadzor, is the task of the expert and scientific community.

– Nestle included fly larvae in the animal feed. To what extent can this step be seen as a harbinger of a kind of revolution in nutrition no longer in pets, but in humans?

– Indeed, in November 2020, it became known that Nestle was the first of the large companies to launch pet food based on insect protein. So far, we are talking about one product that will be sold in Switzerland only.

Once again, – especially with regard to nutrition – humans are very conservative. Therefore, there is no talk of a “revolution” in this context – only evolution, gradual addiction to new recipes and dishes. Here is the best way, comfortable for most people.

Material prepared by Alexey Golyakov

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