Long Read: Maggots, the Future of Food

Christopher Ingraham wrote . . . . . . . . .

It may be hard to understand the appeal of plunging your hand into a pile of writhing maggots. But the sensation is uniquely tactile, not at all unpleasant, as thousands of soft, plump grubs, each the size of a grain of rice, wriggle against your skin, tiny mouth­parts gently poking your flesh.

For Lauren Taranow and her employees, it’s just another day at work.

Taranow is the president of Symton BSF, where the larvae of black soldier flies are harvested and sold as food for exotic pets such as lizards, birds, even hedgehogs. Her “maggot farm”, as she styles it, is part of a burgeoning industry, one with the potential to revolutionise the way we feed the world. That’s because of the black soldier fly larva’s remarkable ability to transform nearly any kind of organic waste – cafeteria refuse, manure, even toxic algae – into high-quality protein, all while leaving a smaller carbon footprint than it found.

In one year, a single acre of black soldier fly larvae can produce more protein than 3,000 acres of cattle or 130 acres of soybeans. Such yields, combined with the need to find cheap, reliable protein for a global population projected to jump 30 per cent, to 9.8 billion, by 2050, present a big oppor­tunity for the black soldier fly. The United Nations, which already warns that animal-rich diets cannot stretch that far long term, is encouraging governments and businesses to turn to insects to fulfil the planet’s protein needs.

People who’ve seen what black soldier fly larvae can do often speak of them in evangelical tones. Jeff Tomberlin, a professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, says the bug industry could “save lives, stabilise economies, create jobs and protect the environment”.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this at some scale throughout the world,” he says.

So why aren’t we?

When the LED lights are flipped on in the fly-breeding room at Evo Conversion Systems, the whirr of thousands of tiny wings fills the air as flies careen about their screened-in enclosures in search of a mate. Evo, which was founded by Tomberlin, shares a wall with Symton. The companies are separate but symbiotic: Evo hatches fly larvae and sells them to Symton, which fattens them up on a proprietary grain blend that ensures optimal nutrition for the animals that eventually will consume them.

The adult flies resemble small black wasps, minus a stinger, and are generally harmless to humans. After they’ve mated, the females deposit clutches of several hundred eggs into small pieces of corrugated cardboard. Evo employees collect the cardboard and deposit them into glass Mason jars to incubate. Several days later, a brood of maggots – each no bigger than a speck of pepper – hatches.

Entomologists have known of the soldier fly’s promise for decades. Researchers proposed using them to convert manure into protein as early as the 1970s. But raising them on anything approaching a commer­­cial scale seemed like a dead end: no one knew how to get captive flies to reliably mate and deposit eggs.

A black soldier fly larva can consume twice its weight in food each day. On its 14-day journey from hatchling to pupa, a single larva will grow nearly an inch long and increase its weight by a factor of 10,000

That changed in 2002, with the publication of a paper by Tomberlin, his adviser, D. Craig Sheppard, and others, which described a system for raising the insects in captivity. The key, they found, was finding the precise mixture of temperature, humidity and, especially, lighting to stimulate the flies to breed.

Before the paper, “people thought we were crazy” for trying to grow soldier flies, Tomberlin says. The fact that the technology to properly cultivate fly colonies didn’t even exist 20 years ago underscores how new the industry is, he adds.

A black soldier fly larva can consume twice its weight in food each day. On its 14-day journey from hatchling to pupa, a single larva will grow nearly an inch long and increase its weight by a factor of 10,000. That’s akin to an eight-pound baby swelling to the size of a 40-tonne humpback whale. They binge eat to store up nutrients for their two-week life span as adults, when they typically don’t eat anything at all.

The larvae at Evo feast on spent grains from a handful of Texas distilleries and breweries, as much as 15 tonnes of it each month. Nathan Barkman, of Rio Brazos Distillery, says Evo eliminates close to half of his company’s weekly output of waste. It’s hot, sopping wet, highly acidic and sticky – “like lava”, he says – making it difficult to dispose of. Local sanitation companies won’t take it. Pig farmers sometimes will, but the closest farms are miles outside town, and nobody wants to be driving molten grain mash that far.

The flies, however, love it. “They’re generalists,” Tomberlin says, and eat just about anything. Pig manure? Check. Human waste? Check. Food scraps? Check. The only organic materials they haven’t had luck with are bones, hair and pineapple rinds, he says.

Their ability to rapidly devour waste has inspired a number of commercial applications. A pilot programme at Louisiana State University deploys a small colony of soldier flies to consume the food its students toss out at one dining hall. The entomologist overseeing the project hopes it will be expanded to eliminate all campus food waste by the end of the year. In China, giant facilities owned by a company called JM Green process at least 50 tonnes of food waste a day with the help of black soldier flies.

Using larvae to eliminate food waste on this scale could be an ecological game-changer. A 2011 UN report detailed how rotting food emits millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accounting for about 7 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But when maggots consume food waste, they take all that carbon with them.

Soldier flies are “where carbon goes to die”, Tomberlin says. “It goes into this system and comes out the other end as all these beneficial ingredients.”

Such as food for animals.

In Symton’s entryway sits a grumpy chameleon named Eugene, who’s prone to hissing at visitors who get too close. There’s also a sweet-natured leopard gecko that spends most of her day snoozing under a rock. Hanging from the ceiling is a potted Asian pitcher plant, its long fleshy cups dangling over the pot’s edges, maws agape.

The chameleon, gecko and pitcher plant have one thing in common: they eat soldier flies.

One of the first commercial applications for soldier fly larvae was as live feed for pet reptiles. The reptile market took off in the 90s, says David Fluker, a second-generation cricket farmer and the owner of Fluker Farms in Louisiana, after the 1993 film Jurassic Parksparked interest in dino­saurs and their most attainable approximations.

“Reptiles were reasonably popular, but they just went off after that,” he says.

Crickets and mealworms – farmed for decades in the American southeast, first as bait for fishers – had long been the twin pillars of the lizard-food industry. The problem, though, is they cannot meet reptiles’ calcium needs. That means pet owners must dust the live feed with the mineral to guard against calcium deficiency, which can cause tremors, seizures and even death.

The soldier fly solves that problem. Tomberlin’s adviser, Sheppard, discovered they are extremely high in calcium – 50 times more per gram than mealworms and crickets. Within a few years, by 2006, he secured a trademark to use soldier fly larvae as feed for geckos, bearded dragons and other reptiles. Soon after, other more established pet food companies entered the market with their own soldier fly brands.

Symton is one of the more recent entrants into that market. The Texas company occupies several thousand feet of commercial warehouse space and has about a dozen employees. It’s already profitable and growing fast: larvae production has doubled in the past six months, up to 2 million a week.

Most of the magic happens in a single room filled with racks of open plastic tubs. Each container holds thousands of grubs in various stages of development, happily munching their way through piles of specially formulated grain mash.

Because soldier fly cultivation is so new, there was much trial and error to get the company to where it is today, Taranow says. Researchers had to calculate the right combination of food and moisture (cricket production, by contrast, is so well-established that you can purchase commercial cricket chow in 20kg bags). They had to lock down the proper grub-to-feed ratio, as well as the precise temperature, lighting and humidity needed to ensure larvae reached the desired size. If any variable is out of whack, the entire colony can crash.

Another challenge for soldier fly farmers is that larvae are surprisingly mischievous. A wet grub can scale any surface, from wood to glass, so growers have to maintain specific humidity levels to prevent them from getting damp, escaping their confines and generally running amok. A group of dry larvae left alone in an enclosure without food will congregate in a corner, piling up World War Z-style until they’re tall enough to allow their compatriots to escape. Symton solved this problem, in part, by piling wet mash in the centre of their bins with a moat of dry material along the edges to prevent escape.

After they reach the desired size, the larvae are sifted out, weighed and poured into plastic containers and then shipped all over the country. One by-product of the process is frass – the scientific term for bug excrement. Symton produces scads of the stuff, which it piles up outside the facility and donates to local landscapers for use as compost.

An acre of land used to raise soldier fly colonies can produce more than 60,000kg of protein per year, according to various peer-reviewed estimates. That’s several orders of magnitude greater than the per-acre protein yield of cattle (about 18kg), soybeans (430kg) or chickens (816kg).

“Black soldier fly larvae can make thousand-folds more protein than other terrestrial animals or plants,” says Liz Koutsos, chief executive of Kentucky-based EnviroFlight, which raises soldier fly larvae used in protein meal for commercial fish and poultry operations. The yields are so high because soldier fly colonies can be stacked vertically, five to 10 per floor, in a way that isn’t possible with cattle or field crops. The fast-growing larvae can be harvested dozens of times per year.

EnviroFlight, like Evo, feeds its larvae by-products of the distilling industry. When the grubs reach full size, they’re harvested, dried in industrial ovens and processed into a protein-rich meal and oil. The technology is moving so quickly, however, that regulators are having difficulty keeping up.

Black soldier fly meal only won approval as fish and poultry feed in 2018. Koutsos says EnviroFlight and companies such as Enterra, in Canada, and Protix, in the European Union, are working to win regulatory approval to use the meal in food for other animals, including swine and even cats and dogs.

The idea is to take pressure off traditional sources of protein meal, such as fish. About one-quarter of the harvest from marine fisheries is turned into food for farmed animals, including fish, pigs and poultry. More than 90 per cent of those fisheries are either fully exploited or over­fished, meaning that as the world’s population grows, there will be more demand for alternative protein sources.

“There’s no question that [soldier fly] meal is much more expensive right now than fishmeal,” Koutsos says. But fishmeal is becoming more expensive, and soldier fly technology is becoming cheaper. The goal, she says, is “to be at or below fishmeal [prices] in five years.”

“Twenty years ago, I would have laughed” at the idea of feeding the world with bugs, says Fluker, the cricket farmer. He recently expanded into soldier fly production and discovered the grubs will eat the frass produced by his millions of crickets. He says he views insect farming as “a vital link to sustaining the world’s feed needs”.

The economics are promising enough that big agri­cultural companies are getting into the insect protein market. Cargill, the Minnesota-based agriculture giant, recently announced a partnership with the French biotech firm InnovaFeed to produce fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae.

“Insect protein feed can be a solution and a renewable source of protein to feed fish and ultimately feed the world,” says Maye Walraven, InnovaFeed’s head of business development, in a video announcing the partnership.

The UN agrees: it forecast in a 2013 report that insect farming would have to play a key role – both as animal feed and to feed people – if the world is going to eat sustainably in coming decades.

Back at Symton, Taranow pops a couple of oven-dried soldier fly larvae into her mouth. “Honestly, they taste like Fritos,” she says.

They have a pleasant, neutral, nutty flavour. Slather them in powdered ranch or barbecue seasoning and it’s easy to imagine bags of them flying off the shelves in convenience stores.

The dried larvae also have an advantage over other insect edibles in that they don’t really look like bugs. They have few identifiable buggy characteristics – no legs to get stuck in your teeth, no eyes to stare at you. It would be easy to mistake them for some sort of exotic grain.

Close to 2 billion people worldwide already include insects in their diets, according to the 2013 UN report. Insect-based snacks are commonly seen in open-air mar­kets in Thailand, China and elsewhere.

The practice hasn’t caught on in Europe or the United States, in part, because of long-standing cultural attitudes toward insects. This is somewhat puzzling, considering many Westerners happily consume foods such as crab and lobster, which are really just giant sea bugs.

“I absolutely think there will be applications [for the soldier fly] in the human food market,” says Koutsos. “The challenge is getting over the cringe factor.”

One potential path to human consumption is via insect-based protein powders, which can be mixed with other foods, thus lessening the ick factor. Several companies are already doing this with crickets.

“There’s been a lot of effort put into cricket flour or mealworms for protein ingredients for everything from pasta to cookies to chips,” Tomberlin says.

He expects soldier fly protein to follow a similar path. “When you walk in these facilities in 10 years, we’ll look back at this era and say we were just getting started.”

Will Western consumers ever embrace insect-based protein? Twenty years ago, as Fluker says, the idea would have been laughable. But today, in the era of the vegetarian Whopper, the door is open.

Source: SCMP

Future of Food – A Report launched by Sainsbury’s as Part of Its 150th Anniversary Celebration

Space farms, food on prescription and jellyfish suppers are all predictions which feature in the Future of Food Report, released by Sainsbury’s today.

Commissioned by Sainsbury’s, futurologists Department 22, leading food historian Dr Polly Russell and plant scientist James Wong explore what, when and how we’ll be eating in 2025, 2050 and 150 years in the future, 2169.

Claire Hughes, Head of Quality and Innovation, Sainsbury’s, commented: “Sainsbury’s has been feeding the nation for 150 years, starting with butter, right through to the incredible array of products available today. We have a long history of innovation in food, and we look forward to continuing that over the next 150 years. We know that we have a role to play in expanding the nation’s diets – seen recently with our introduction of plant based ranges – as the current foods we eat aren’t sustainable for a growing global population that will increase to 9 billion in 30 years, and over 11 billion in the next 150 years.

“By 2169, working alongside our suppliers and producers, we predict to have introduced foods like jellyfish and patch dinners to the British diet that are not even fathomable today.”

2025 – In five years . . . . . .

1. Food as medicine

In five years time, we could see health professional prescribe dietary advice as preventative health. Bio-fortified foods such as Chestnut Super Mushrooms – which are boosted with Vitamin D and B12 – are already on the shelves of Sainsbury’s. Biofortification as a method is predicted to become widespread by 2025, at a time when nutrition could be a recognised tool used to proactively prevent chronic diseases.

2. Planet-friendly food

Due to our rising eco-anxiety, health concerns and awareness of animal welfare, it’s likely that a quarter of all British people will be vegetarian in 2025 (up from one in eight Britons today) and half of us will identify as flexitarians (up from fifth today). Innovation within the plant-based realm will continue with Banana Blossom regularly replacing the likes of cod.

3. Algae milk lattes

The alternative proteins market is set to soar by 25%, with algae milk predicted to become the next plant-milk to take over from the popular nut-based versions.

4. Insect carbonara

Insects will finally shake their ‘ick’ factor and we’ll start stocking up on cricket flour for our bakes and grasshopper pasta for carbonara. Moringa, kedondong and the bambara groundnut will also be found in more of our cupboards, to tackle the issue that nearly two-thirds of our food currently comes from just four crops – wheat, maize, rice and soybean.

2050 – In 30 years . . . . . . .

5. Jellyfish supper

Researchers have recently found that jellyfish makes for a nutritious snack. Full of vitamin B12, magnesium and iron, it’s also low in calories and can be turned into crunchy chips in just a few days. This may well become a popular staple in our diets given the abundance of the species due to warmer oceans and reduced predators.

6. Cultured meat

By 2050 we could start to see cultured meat shift from an expensive experiment to becoming more of an everyday item. Sainsbury’s could be selling home lab-grown meat kits which can be picked up from the ‘lab-grown’ aisle.

7. Customised crops

In 2050 we could pick up a carrot from the shelf and know exactly when it was planted, when was plucked from the ground (to the second) and even its individual taste profile. New technological systems, such as blockchain, and a rising need for more personalised information could soon allow for ‘ultra-customisation’ for consumers. Soon we may well be selecting mangoes at the exact desired stage of ripeness or even 3D printed snacks according to our exact spice tolerance.

2169 – In 150 years . . . . . . .

8. Space farms

Barren landscapes such as parts of the desert could be transformed into sustainable, fertile farmland, thanks to food growing experiments and technologies used on other planets, such as Mars.

9. Implant food deliveries

In 2169, we could start to see personal microchip implants become the norm. Developed to store and analyse all the genetic, health and situational data recorded from our bodies, we’ll know exactly what we should be eating and drinking at any point. Retailers, such as Sainsbury’s could play a critical role, arranging automatic drone deliveries of the required food item or vitamin patch as soon as energy or nutrient levels dip.

10. Patch dinners

Advances in artificial intelligence could mean we will have the option of consuming all the nutrients and vitamins we need through a patch or pill. With our bodies now taken care of, the role of food will once again play the vital role of bringing friends and families together.

James Wong, Plant Scientist, said: “For decades, diets have been simplified to include core ingredients that provided sustenance, and with that we witnessed a decline in the varieties of some ingredients. However, what we are seeing now – especially with the explosion of plant-based foods – is that diversity in food is returning to the British diet, including ancient crops like quinoa and South-East Asian staples such as Jackfruit.

“With that increasing variety in diets, comes more understanding of where our food comes from and a deeper appreciation of food production.”

Dr Polly Russell, Food Historian, added: “Throughout history food trends have been determined by a complex range of economic, political, social and technological factors. Although in many ways how we shop, eat and cook looks radically different from 150 years ago, there are some things which will never change – food has always been an important part in bringing people together. So, even if we end up relying on patch or pill dinners for our physical health by 2169, food will still play a key part in our emotional, social and psychological wellbeing.”

Source: Sainsbury’s

Read the whole report . . . . .

Innova Market Insight’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2019

Enlarge image . . . . .

1. Discovery: the Adventurous Consumer
2. The Plant Kingdom
3. Alternatives to All
4. Green Appeal
5. Snacking: the Definitive Occasion
6. Eating for Me
7. A Fresh look at Fiber
8. I Feel Good
9. Small Player Mindset
10. Connected to the Plate

Read more . . . . .

U.S. Whole Foods Market Unveils Top 10 Food Trends for 2019

Phil Lempert wrote . . . . . . . . .

I cover issues and trends in the food, retail and agriculture sectors.

Twenty-six subject experts from Whole Foods have been convening for four years to predict what’s coming next to their own shelves and to the food world as a whole. These experts range from a master sommelier and global beverage buyer to a senior R&D culinologist to the president of the Whole Kids Foundation to a produce field inspector to a board-certified, internal medicine physician to a global meat buyer; some actually started out working at the store level.

Before I share their predictions with you, what is unsaid is that the chain, now owned by Amazon, has produced the biggest trend in grocery in decades: They have awaken a previously staid industry and revitalized it as chains both large and small are changing the way they look at grocery. Amazon/Whole Foods has also attracted new talent, some from Ivy League schools who might never have thought about a career in grocery, and led other grocers on the same path. For me one of the biggest trends for 2019 will be to watch where Amazon/Whole Foods leads us next.

Now on to Whole Foods’ top 10 food trends:

Pacific Rim flavors is the top trend, with Whole Foods announcing that its Market and 365 Everyday Value brands will launch a new line of products inspired by Pacific Rim fruits like a guava tropical vinaigrette, pineapple passionfruit sparkling mineral water, mango pudding mix and passionfruit coconut frozen fruit bars. It also expect to see ingredients like longganisa (a Filipino pork sausage), dried shrimp, cuttlefish and shrimp paste to appear on restaurant and home menus in dishes from breakfast to dinner.

Probiotics have been a trend for a few years now, but Whole Foods predicts they will expand beyond the refrigerated section. New strains of probiotics, such as Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 and Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856, are making more shelf-stable applications possible and are starting to appear in pantry staples like granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and nutrition bars.

Trend No. 3 tries to be a bit cute as Whole Foods call it Phat Fats, based on the growing popularity of keto, paleo, grain-free and even “pegan” (paleo + vegan) diets. Pointing to a change in the consumers’ mindsets about fat, it predicts that higher-protein and lower-carb diets will continue and even expand to new categories in the store, including nutrition bars, snacks of all kinds, vegan coffee drinks, coconut-butter filled chocolates and even new flavors of ghee that range from sweet to savory. According to these experts, fat will be back in a big way. Another one of its trends are new ice creams and frozen desserts that have savory swirls of artisanal cheeses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just the other day said that legalizing hemp to be grown here in the U.S. will be a part of the new farm bill, allowing hemp researchers to apply for grants and make hemp farmers eligible for crop insurance. (Full disclosure: I sit on the annual Hemp History Week committee and endorse their efforts to legalize the crop). Whole Foods predicts that the current offerings (hemp is grown in Canada and is allowed to be sold on store shelves here as hemp oils, seeds and as ingredients in other foods and beverages) will become much broader as researchers find more benefits from other parts of the plant as consumer interest in cannabis continues to accelerate.

Plant-based foods have been on the rise for the past couple of years but the experts at Whole Foods predict that even more people are exploring plant-based snacking. Their palates crave adventure and want a break from meat, seeking ways to add savory umami flavors into snacks and meals. It expects the meat-based snacking world of jerkies, bacons and pork rinds to be the next big trend in plant-based foods. The frozen food section, featuring new pints with innovative bases like avocado, hummus, tahini and coconut water, is also building on the plant-based trend.

Sea greens are another trends for 2019. Expect to see seaweed butters, kelp noodles, puffed snacks made from water lily seeds, plant-based tuna alternatives made from algae, crispy salmon skins and kelp jerkies.

Packaging continues to be one of sustainability efforts biggest issues – but Whole Foods sees brands making the switch to more compostable packaging. It also sees an emphasis on reusable packaging as produce departments try to push a “BYOVB” (bring your own vegetable bag) effort. In addition, traditional single-use packaging is going multi-use (and compostable), with food wraps made from beeswax and waxed canvas or silicone alternatives to the usual plastic storage bags used for sandwiches and snacks.

Innova Market Insights, which analyzes new food and beverage launches to determine industry trends, names snacking as “the definitive occasion” as people redefine what a snack is. Innova shows 10% in annual growth of global food and beverage launches with a snacking claim over the past 5 years. Whole Foods’ experts seems to agree as they see snacks getting an upgrade. They point to charcuterie or cheese boards as examples and see the trend gravitating towards higher-quality snacks that take us back to our childhoods; including artisanal versions of classics like cheese or peanut butter cracker sandwiches.

Whole Foods’ last trend is focused on the consumer who is aligning with brands that have similar values and supporting those brands with her shopping dollars. It expect to see more shopper support for brands committed to environmental stewardship, animal welfare, women-owned businesses and farms and support programs to relieve poverty throughout the world

Source: Forbes

UK Overtakes Germany to Become World’s Leader for Vegan Food Launches

The UK was the nation with the highest number of new vegan food products launched in 2018, toppling Germany from its number one spot, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD)

From the UK at the forefront global vegan new product development to a sharp rise in UK meat-free consumption – all helped by the rise in popularity of initiatives like Veganuary – UK vegan new product development (NPD) is flourishing.

As many as one in six (16 per cent) food products launched in the UK in 2018 had a ‘vegan’ or ‘no animal ingredients’ claim, doubling from just 8 per cent in 2015, Mintel reveals.

According to the research, Germany has seen numbers of vegan food NPD drop, with the total share of food launches classified as ‘vegan’ falling from 15 per cent in 2017 to 13 per cent in 2018.

Overall, one in 10 (9 per cent) food products launched in Europe in 2018 had a vegan/no animal ingredients claim, doubling from 5 per cent in 2015.

Edward Bergen, global food and drinks analyst at Mintel said, “For a number of years Germany led the world for launches of vegan products. However, 2018 saw the UK take the helm. Germany has certainly plateaued, likely driven by a flooded market with little room to grow further.

“The UK, by contrast, has seen a huge promotion of vegan choices in restaurants and supermarkets. The most poignant of these is the expansion of supermarket own-label options with dedicated vegan ranges in mainstream stores. Additional space is also being freed up by UK supermarkets in the on-the-go aisles and small format stores to help promote vegan food and drink, making it easier for meat-eating consumers to try these new concepts out.

“Meanwhile, initiatives like Veganuary and meat-less Monday allow consumers to flirt with veganism without the long-term commitment.”

Source: Speciality Food magazine