The researchers wanted to determine how acceptable the concept of eating insects is among Chilean individuals.
The researchers prepared traditional meat empanadas and empanadas filled with Zophobas morio larvae, offerring both to a sample of 150 individuals aged between 18 and 92 years old.
Sixty percent were willing to try the insect empanada, with men 2.5 times more willing to try than women.
Younger people were also more receptive than older people. The researchers noted a 3.5% increase in the tendency to reject insects with each additional year of age.
Rodrigo Chorbadjian, entomologist and director of the department of plant sciences, school of agronomy and forestry at UC, bred the larvae added to the empanadas, feeding them with oats, wheat bran, potato, and carrot.
“[This interdisciplinary study] opens doors with a huge potential for research in cultural matters, sustainable agricultural production, and the possibility of replicating innovations from the animal feed industry in human nutrition,” he said.
According to Chorbadjian, insects as a sustainable food source are known in Chile but for animals, not humans.
The Zophobas morio larvae contain 49% protein and 40% monounsaturated fats. When they reach maturity, the exoskeleton of the beetle is rich in chitin, an insoluble compound that acts as a source of fiber.
Sebastián Tobar, professor and director of research in the faculty of nutrition and diet, said insect protein, cell cultured meat and plant-based meat alternatives were three key areas of food development.
He called on companies to scale up edible insects for both nutrition and sustainability reasons.
The researchers are now looking at using other insect larvae.
Insect NPD: 583% growth globally
According to market research company Mintel, the use of insects as an ingredient in food products grew by an impressive 583.3% between 2014 and 2018 worldwide.
“When compared with other sources of animal protein, such as meat, the environmental impact of insects’ production is smaller than that of cows, chickens, and pigs, because it requires less area of cultivation, less water, and emits less polluting gases into the atmosphere,” reads the 2019 Mintel report on Brazilian snack trends.
“Rich in protein, a large part of the products that contain insects explores this claim, highlighting their sustainability.”
Insects have not been embraced by the Latin American food industry to the same extent as regions such as the US and Europe, but there are some entomo-entrepreneurs.
Hakkuna is a Brazilian start-up founded by an engineering graduate and is planning on bringing cricket flour and protein snacks to Brazilian consumers.
Mexican start-up Totolines makes tortilla chips with a blend of corn and cricket flour, flavored with chili and spices.
Insects are a traditional snack in Mexico but this culinary heritage does not necessarily mean Mexicans are instantly receptive to insects in processed food, according to Totolines.
Its co-founder Andrea Gómez told Entrepreneur: "Mexico is a very new market, so the biggest challenge is the perception that consumers have towards insects, that is the ' yuck factor’.”