On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, the European Commission approved house crickets as an ingredient in processed foods. The consumption of house crickets as a novel food was classified as harmless to health. Nevertheless, some consumers are reacting with uncertainty to this innovation. Food technologist Dr. Oliver Schlüter is researching the development of a sustainable indoor production system for insects in the food4future joint project.
In food4future, researchers have been working on innovations for a sustainable and healthy food supply since 2019. In addition to macroalgae, salt-tolerant plants and jellyfish, the focus is on crickets as alternative food sources. Under the leadership of Dr Oliver Schlüter,, food technologist from the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB), sustainable insect rearing processes are being developed for urban indoor cultivation.
To ensure safer production and thus healthy food with crickets, the insects can be thermally treated before further processing. This helps to reduce the residual moisture of, for example, flour made from crickets to the recommended level. Schlüter explains, "Many factors play a role in microbiological safety: therefore, for example, bacterial counts must be controlled already during insect production, as well as during the preparation steps and subsequent processing paths, including the respective storage and packaging regimes up to the final product. In principle, there is no difference here to comparable conventional food processing chains. Safe production and processing manages potential risks and is the basic prerequisite to also reap the benefits of crickets as an alternative resource for sustainable and healthy food in human nutrition."
Sustainable and healthy food possible with crickets
The potential of the insects, also known as crickets, as a sustainable food is enormous. Currently, crickets are being bred in cricket farms, especially in Asia. In addition to their high content of nutrients such as proteins and fats, crickets also provide vitamins and minerals for human nutrition. They can also contribute to sustainable consumption because, compared to conventional protein suppliers such as beef or pork, they require fewer resources such as feed, water or land for their rearing and - depending on the production system - generally have a lower greenhouse gas footprint.
Crickets already approved in the EU since 2022
Last spring, the European Commission already approved the marketing of domestic crickets (Acheta domesticus) dried, frozen or in powder form as a novel food (Novel Food) after an extensive scientific evaluation by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). What is new is that they may now be used in processed foods.
However, the approval has led to some uncertainty among consumers. Not least the fear of unintentionally consuming crickets in processed foods is the subject of discussion. However, the labeling regulations of European food law stipulate that foods must be clearly labeled with "Acheta domesticus (domestic cricket)" in the list of ingredients. The reference to the allergenic potential of crickets is also mandatory. In addition to the legally clear situation, the high prices of cricket products make the fear expressed in many places that these foods are mixed in undeclared very unlikely. With regard to the microbial load of crickets, as with all other foodstuffs, maximum values apply that must not be exceeded.
Contact at ATB: Dr. Oliver Schlüter
Contact food4future: Julia Vogt, f4f-Project manager, E-Mail: vogt@ igzev.de
food4future - Nahrung der Zukunft (f4f) deals with radical innovations for a sustainable food supply of the future. Ten partner institutions from science and industry, led by Prof. Monika Schreiner from the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ), are working on the question of how future generations can be supplied with sufficient healthy food and what technologies are needed to achieve this. Based on two extreme scenarios (no land, no trade), flexible indoor cultivation systems for the urban production of alternative food sources (macroalgae, salt plants, jellyfish and crickets) are being developed. Sociological and anthropological studies will shed light on the interaction of extreme scenarios between food systems and society. The joint project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the "Agricultural Systems of the Future" funding line with around 6 million euros.