Researchers cook mealworms into a tasty, protein-rich, ‘meat-like’ condiment

Scientists have cooked mealworms with sugar, creating a “meat-like” flavour. One day it can be used in suitable foods as a tasty source of additional protein.

Most people consider beetle larvae, such as mealworms, to be creepy nuisances. However, these insects are edible and can be a healthy alternative to traditional meat protein sources. Today, scientists report that they have cooked mealworms with sugar, creating a “meat-like” flavor. One day, it could be used in convenient foods as a tasty source of additional protein.

The researchers presented their results last week at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The meeting features approximately 11,000 presentations on a wide range of scientific topics.

“Recently, eating insects has become of interest due to the increasing cost of animal protein, as well as the environmental issues associated with it,” says In Hee Cho, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator.

According to the United Nations, the global human population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050 and nearly 11 billion by 2100. Feeding everyone meat from animals – especially cows, pigs and sheep – will require larger amounts food, water, and land resources. Additionally, cows are a significant contributor to climate change, releasing copious amounts of methane in their burps. Therefore, more sustainable sources of protein are needed.

“Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high amounts of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber and high-quality protein, which is like that of meat,” says Cho, whose team is at Wonkwang University. (South Korea).

A big issue is that mealworms suffer from an image problem, she says.

Eating insects is not common in many parts of the world, and people can be repulsed by just the idea of ​​chewing them. Some companies are trying to change people’s minds by selling whole cooked worms as crunchy, salty snacks, but consumer acceptance is not widespread. Cho says that to get more people to regularly eat mealworms, a more stealthy approach may be needed — hiding bugs in the form of condiments inside easy-to-cook and other convenience products .

The first step for the research team was to understand the taste profile of this insect. They compared the odors of mealworms throughout their life cycle, from egg to larva to pupa to adult. Although there were some differences in individual compositions, all phases mainly contained volatile hydrocarbons, which evaporate and emit odors. For example, raw larvae had a wet earthy, shrimp-like odor and sweet corn odor.

Hojun Seo, a graduate student on Cho’s team, then compared the flavors that developed when the larvae were cooked using different methods. Steamed mealworms developed an even stronger sweet corn-like flavor, while the roasted and fried versions had attributes similar to shrimp and fried oil. According to Seo, the flavor compounds from roasting and frying included pyrazines, alcohols and aldehydes and were similar to compounds formed when meat and seafood were cooked.

Based on these results, the researchers expected that additional reaction aromas could be produced by protein-rich mealworms if they were heated with sugar. Reaction flavors, sometimes called process flavors, are produced when proteins and sugars are heated together and interact. Examples include Maillard, Strecker, and caramelization and fat reactions[{” attribute=””>acid oxidation, says Cho. The result is usually a suite of “meat-like” and savory flavors.

Hyeyoung Park, a graduate student in Cho’s lab and the presenter at the meeting, tested different manufacturing conditions and ratios of powdered mealworm and sugars. This resulted in multiple versions of reaction flavors. She identified a total of 98 volatile compounds in the samples. The researchers then supplied the samples to a panel of volunteers to gather feedback about which had the most favorable “meat-like” odor. “As a result of this study, 10 of the reaction flavors were optimized based on consumer preferences,” says Park.

To the best of the researchers’ knowledge, this is the first time that mealworms have been used to produce desirable reaction flavors. They hope that these results will contribute to the commercial development of meat-like and savory flavorings and seasonings, and will encourage the convenience food industry to include edible insects in their products. The next step for the team is to further optimize cooking processes to reduce any potentially undesirable or off-flavors in the final flavoring material made from mealworms.

The researchers acknowledge support from the Rural Development Administration (South Korea) and Wonkwang University (South Korea).

Comparison of aroma profiles from mealworm (Tenebrio molitor)-based reaction flavors optimized by consumer preferences

Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor), which contains beneficial essential

Amino acids are a set of organic compounds used to build proteins. There are about 500 naturally occurring known amino acids, though only 20 appear in the genetic code. Proteins consist of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The sequence of the amino acid chain causes the polypeptide to fold into a shape that is biologically active. The amino acid sequences of proteins are encoded in the genes. Nine proteinogenic amino acids are called “essential” for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>amino acids and is high in unsaturated fatty acids, is one of the most widely used edible insects in the world. However, edible insects are not universally accepted in our food cultures due to their repellant appearance and unique flavor characteristics. Therefore, many studies have been conducted on various processed food applications with mealworm. Our previous study had demonstrated the possibility of manufacturing mealworm-based reaction flavor (M-RF); the present investigated aroma profiles and the differences between M-RFs optimized by consumer preferences. A total of 98 volatile compounds were identified in M-RFs, including 17 nitrogen-containing heterocyclic compounds, 9 oxygen-containing heterocyclic compounds, 8 sulfur-containing heterocyclic compounds, 11 sulfides, 15 aldehydes, 6 ketones, 11 alcohols, 13 esters & acids, and 8 aliphatic hydrocarbons. The differences in M-RF aroma profiles were modeled using partial least squares-discriminant analysis. This indicated that M-RFs exhibiting larger amounts of methionine and garlic powder were located on the positive t[1] axis, while those with a higher proportion of cysteine ​​were in negative t[1] axis. The main components contributing to this separation were linoleic acid ether, 2-pentylfuran, benzeneacetaldehyde, ethyl palmitate, benzaldehyde, ethyl oleate, 2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine and tricosane. Our model also revealed that M-RFs exhibiting higher percentages of garlic powder were located in positive t[2] axis, while those with more methionine were in negative t[2] axis. Ferruginol, diallyl sulfide, eugenol, 2-methyl-3-furanthiol, 2-furfurylthiol, 3-methyl-2-thiophenecarboxaldehyde, 1-hexanol, 2-nonen-4-one, allyl propyl sulfide, diallyl trisulfide, allyl propyl-1 -enyl disulfide and 4-heptenal were associated with this discrimination.

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