The New Ways We’ll Be Eating in 2020

Kevi Alexander wrote . . . . . . . . .

Like most of my stories, this one begins in a Chipotle.

It was earlier this year, and I had just settled down for a midsummer’s day snack at the Chipotle in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. While eating my barbacoa taco with guacamole, I watched a young gentleman enter the restaurant on his phone. Because I assume the best intentions, I figured he was just reading a riveting John Grisham thriller on the Books app while he waited for a friend.

But six minutes later, when his friend showed up, he did not get up to wait in the very short line with him. Instead, about a minute later, he got up, walked to the shelf designated for delivery app to-go orders, and picked out a bag of food. By the time his friend returned, he’d opened the bag and started eating at a table. His friend, acting as my avatar, asked the obvious question when he returned with his own food, “Dude, why didn’t you just get your food at the counter?”

“Nah,” came the reply in between bites of burrito. “This was way easier.”

Welcome, friends, to the modern dining out scene in the year 2019. As Thrillist’s National Writer-at-Large, it has been my duty to keep an eye on the American dining scene for the last few years, and I can tell you firsthand, we are currently living in strange dining times. With no recession in the last eleven years, restaurant growth has been explosive, and there are over 100,000 more restaurants in America now than there were ten years ago. Cool, right? Well, sort of. But no recession also means landlords have been able to jack up rents for 11 straight years, and with an increase of restaurants looking for workers, it’s also meant the labor force has been stretched nearly to the breaking point.

Thirsty for a solution, or at least a way to cut costs, more and more restaurants have turned to the fast casual model, which meant less front-of-the-house staff, and often simplified casual menus and apps. Oh, the apps. Like websites ten years ago, fast casual restaurants everywhere are clamoring to have apps for ease of ordering and payment, and this is not just the national chains. Even my local bakery, with three locations all in Marin County, has an app.

This phone-heavy, nearly human interaction-free style of dining has pushed us into some weird places as consumers, as our dining habits start to model our increasingly fractured, niche focused second life online. Even the idea of the “communal table,” once thought of as a novel idea to both add more seats to a restaurant and encourage interaction amongst solo customers, now seems to have more in common with a subway car or a farm barn trough, as people stare ahead at their phones with their AirPods in and mindlessly chew whatever is in front of them.

But before I spend too much time leaning back in my rocking chair and telling all the young folks how better it was back in the day, I’d rather talk through some of the other emerging trends I’ve noticed over the last six months writing my bi-monthly review column, Too Fast Too Casual. So here are three:

Keep(ing) it Simple (is not) Stupid

As tastes continue to fracture into niches and mini-niches, I’ve seen things go both ways. Some restaurants try and fit more and more varied fare and styles of food under their umbrella, and others stick to the program that got them there. Places like Five Guys, Jersey Mike’s, and Wingstop (some of my favorite of the fast-casual joints I’ve reviewed) have almost a contrarian focus in what they do, and with that focus, they’re able to double down on the quality of the product at hand.

Restaurants that’ve gone the other way, Panera, for example, which seems to have an ever-expanding menu, or Noodles & Company, which, as a concept, offers global variations on anything with “noodles”, can fall into the trap where they’re so eager to please everyone that they end up pleasing no one. It reminds me of a book I once read about college admissions counselors, who said they were much more interested in a “spike” (ie someone who was excellent in one thing, be it the tuba or a sport or science) than an “all-around student.” In this highly sped-up, social media-swirled world, the spike restaurants stand out, while the all-around joints remain stuck on everyone’s waitlist.

The Changing Perception of Wifi “Camping”

In the early aughts, as Starbucks blossomed on every corner and became the de-facto office for the growing number of freelancers, it became somewhat of a joke to lament the “campers” who just set up shop and ordered one hot tea over the course of six hours.

Nowadays, we consumers have a greater sense of awareness that, if we spend six hours in a joint, we need to order food, or at least multiple drinks, to pay for the space we’re taking up (which the restaurant could be using to serve other customers).

On the restaurant side, that means more and more places seek to encroach on what was once exclusively coffee shop territory, by offering free Wifi and comfortable seating, and hoping that, over the course of those six hours, they can entice you to get a couple of meals, and a few Agua Frescas. In fact, nearly every chain I visited, with the exception of Wingstop, offered free Wifi. Panera, with its twin focus on baked goods and lunch items, is most logically set up to take advantage of this, because they’ve got a roster of grazing snacks and meals, but nearly everyone seems to feel they need to be involved. After all, if your office can be anywhere, more and more fast casual joints are wondering, why shouldn’t it be here?

The proliferation of airplane-style pricing

In the past few years, airplanes have famously put everything up for sale. Want an six extra inches of legroom? That’s $44. How about boarding in the first three groups? Add $28. Want Wifi? That’s $20 for the flight. And this is even before we get to the food and drinks.

Fast casual joints, especially the newer iterations, are very aware of the advantages of this technique. So they’ve begun breaking apart meals into components they can charge extra for. The upscale assembly line joints (as really pioneered by Chipotle) are masters of this. Chipotle does it with guacamole and queso, but it works with any of the “make-your-own” style places.

At Sweetgreen, for example, the enticements come with what they call “Premiums” (roasted chicken, or shaved parmesan, or avocado, or feta, etc); at places like NY-based Dig Inn, it’s the genius and possibility of splitting everything into A La Carte Sides (including, somewhat confusingly, “Main Sides”) at around $4 per. So it seems completely reasonable to throw in those charred Brussels with honey chili oil and some extra herb roasted chicken on top of the three you got in your Farmer’s Favorite Marketbowl. At Lemonade, it’s the enticement of “Hot Sides,” like blonde onion soup and white truffle Mac & Cheese bubbling up in front of you while you order your marketplace salad or sandwich. It’s all sitting there, looking Instagram-worthy, waiting for you to fork over that extra $5 for the taste.

So those are the three large trends I’m seeing. But here’s a short list of micro trends I’ve noticed, food/drink items and terms that seem to pervade the newer fast casual menus:

  • Bowls of… everything.
  • Agua fresca
  • “Street Food” – usually meaning snacks and simple meals from non-European countries.
  • Macarons – not to be confused with macaroons.
  • Mason jars – usually filled with parfait-style snacks or desserts.
  • “Updated” – as in “Updated Caesar Salad.” A restaurant’s way of showing you a classic dish but saying, “oh no honey, it’s not the OLD version. We’re using pine nuts!”
  • Newer, fancier avocado toast – like, two iterations fancier than the original 2011 model.
  • Slightly fancy soft serve ice cream
  • Oversized chocolate chip cookies flecked with sea salt
  • Bite size cake… things – cake pops, cake balls, cake bites, just damn small pieces of cake.

I’ll end on a hopeful note, and that is this: the most exciting things happening in the fast casual space seem to be coming from outside of the traditional American comfort food zones. Northern California based Curry Up Now, serving “Indian Street Food,” has already expanded into Utah and has plans to keep going. Beit Rima, Samir Mogannam’s “Arabic comfort food” restaurant in San Francisco, pays homage to the foods of his Palestinian grandparents and has been wildly successful. It continues to grow, as does Taboonette, Israeli chef Efi Naon’s NYC’s “Middleterranean” spot. Junzi Kitchen, a fast casual Chinese chain, is doing something incredibly interesting: creating a fund to help buy and modernize older Chinese-American restaurants, with the idea of keeping their identities alive. Pierre Thiam’s Senegalese fast casual restaurant Teranga showcases West African dishes like Jollof Fonio with roasted salmon and black eyed pea salad, or spicy fried plantains.

But one of the best fast casual experiences I had this year came when I visited Chef JJ Johnson’s Harlem fast casual restaurant FIELD TRIP in Harlem. With the motto “Rice is Culture,” FIELD TRIP uses heirloom grains and freshly milled unbleached rice to try and showcase to its diners the interconnectivity of a dish like rice throughout different world regions. But, most exciting of all, was how damn good it was. Everything from the Crab Pockets with sweet and sticky sauce, to the Quinoa Bao Buns, to the Shrimp bowl with green curry felt nutrient-dense and interesting and purposeful.

Oh, and while I was there, I was so preoccupied with my food and a conversation with a nearby diner, I forgot to take photos or even look at my phone. And nowadays, maybe that’s the ultimate compliment.

Source: Thrillist

2020 Snack Food Trends

From Truly Good Foods . . . . . . . . .

Our annual trend report highlights some of the biggest food trends we predict for the coming year. 2020 is looking like a big year for flavor innovation, personalized nutrition and a wider acceptance of plant-based options.

Our 2020 Snack Food Trends include:

Unique Fruit Flavors

Fruity flavors are taking a turn to the exotic. Especially popular in beverages and candies, the flavor trends are moving beyond traditional fruits and highlighting more unusual flavors. Coming from an overseas influence, we’re seeing fruits like yuzu, lychee, blood orange, prickly pear, calamansi (a hybrid between a kumquat and mandarin orange – more on hybrids later in our trends!), Meyer lemon, and Japanese plum.

Sweet Heat

The consumer’s sweet tooth is transitioning into more of a spicy tooth. As sugar continues to be looked upon as a negative, product development teams are looking into less sweet flavors that will keep consumers interested. The combination of sweet and heat is continuing to gain ground, especially moving into candy. As spicy, global cuisines continue to be a huge trend in the foodservice industry, that has filtered down to confections with spicy chocolates, baked goods and candy.

New Flours

As a grain-free lifestyle becomes more popular, alternative flours are hitting the mainstream and you can expect to see even more versions this coming year. Popular for a few years in pre-made cauliflower crust pizzas, cauliflower flour will be available in bulk and packaged for the consumer to experiment in the kitchen with. Some other interesting alternative flours going mainstream this year include banana flour, chickpea flour, Tigernut (a root vegetable) flour, coconut flour, nut flours (almond, cashew, macadamia, etc), and sorghum flour.

Expect to see more “boosted” flour options too that feature added protein, fiber and other nutritional benefits.

In the CPG arena, more snacks will feature these new flours as key ingredients to offer a gluten-free snack option.

Mood Boosted Food

We covered the functional food trend in last year’s report and this year we’re diving deeper into mood-boosting foods. Foods and beverages featuring mood-boosting ingredients are on the rise this year as consumers want those added benefits from their snacks. Mood-boosting ingredients are being featured on packaged snacks and restaurants are even testing special menus to shift your mood in a particular way.

More Nut Butters

Similar to gluten-free alternative flours, nut butters are getting more unique options to compete with the OG peanut butter. These plant-based butters avoid peanut allergies and many of them also eliminate the use of palm oil whose harvesting can be harmful to the rainforests. Look for new nut and seed butters that are made from watermelon seeds, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut.

Hybrids

Adventurous consumers are highly receptive to hybrid products. You probably remember the mass hysteria a few years ago over the cronut – a croissant/doughnut hybrid. We’ve seen hybrid trends come and go since then and we expect 2020 to be a big year for hybrid snacks. As food companies feel the pressure for creative flavor innovation to attract consumers’ attention and boost sales, they’ve taken to mixing and matching among flavors and categories. Think birthday cake-flavored popcorn or alcohol-flavored gummies. A lot of these hybrid flavors are being rolled out with limited-time releases which enhances the uniqueness of the experience. Food launches with a limited-batch claim have increased by 36% over the past several years, according to Innova. It’s a great way to test innovation and draw excitement for interesting hybrid snacks.

More Than A Flavor

Consumer demand for unique experiences will move beyond flavor to include texture more this year. 70% of consumers said texture gives food a more interesting experience and although texture is a key element of how we experience food, it doesn’t get as much attention as some of our other senses. Often when texture is commented upon in food, it’s in a negative way such as not liking the texture of a food item.

Playing up texture can make existing products more exciting and new products can highlight textures for a fun, new experience. Consumer demand for something new and different is predicted to increase, to be reflected in more product launches with textural claims. Because not many brands focus on their product’s texture, it can be a great point of differentiation in crowded categories, like snacks.

For color trends this year, the palette is moving from warm to cool with blues and greens spotlighted in dishes and packaged snacks. Colorful ingredient options include blue algae, beets, matcha, and butterfly pea flower tea, which changes color from blue to purple when acidity is added to it.

The Mighty Chickpea

Product developers continue to discover new possibilities and applications for chickpeas. Already popping up in savory and sweet spreads, pastas, and snacks, garbanzo beans are now breaking further into the bakery segment. A great source of plant-based protein and fiber, chickpea crust could be the next cauliflower crust and chickpea butter the next alternative nut butter.

Plant-Forward World

Food and beverage products featuring a plant-based claim posted an average annual growth rate of 68% over the past five years, according to Innova. The interesting part of the plant-based revolution is that it’s no longer just about finding meat-free alternatives for vegans and vegetarians. Now, plant-based products are being enjoyed by the general meat-eating population who are trying to cut down their meat consumption. That is a true testament to the product innovation of great tasting food and the storytelling that has gone hand-in-hand with plant-based products.

Interest in plant-based foods and beverages is aligned with sustainability, another top trend for 2020.

According to an Innova report, close to 90% of global consumers said they expect companies to invest in sustainability, up 22% from last year. When it comes to sustainability, studies have shown that older consumers care more about food waste and younger consumers care more about plastic waste. The heightened focus on single-use plastics is no longer just a trend relegated to certain states, but a reality that goes beyond the purge of plastic straws.

Source: Truly Good Foods

Reducetarians Cut Down on Eating Meat without Going Cold Turkey

Andrea Sachs wrote . . . . . . . . .

When Brian Kateman started the Reducetarian movement five years ago, his father, Russell Kateman, supported the concept of reducing the world’s consumption of animal products. Russell just didn’t follow the dietary approach himself. Surely he could love both his child and Chick-fil-A.

Then, last year, Russell gave in and cut back on animal-based foods. “I was really addicted to meat and being lazy, but now I feel like a new man,” the 67-year-old optometrist said.

Since changing his eating habits, which included three-times-a-week visits to Chick-fil-A, the Staten Island resident has shed 20 pounds off his 240-pound frame (his target weight is 200) and no longer needs to take cholesterol pills. His doctor also reduced his diabetes medicine. “I move more,” Russell Kateman said. “I enjoy life more.”

And he’s meeting a Reducetarian goal.

The Reducetarian movement’s quest is “to improve human health, protect the environment, and spare farm animals from cruelty by reducing societal consumption of animal products.”

The concept of eating less meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy isn’t new. But in an era of extreme diets, the idea of moderation and acceptance is novel.

The movement’s approach is “don’t let perfectionism get in the way of the good,” Brian told me during the Reducetarian Summit, an annual event that took place in Crystal City, Va., in late September. “Reduce rather than be perfect.” (The next conference is scheduled for Sept. 11-13, 2020, in San Francisco).

To illustrate his point, Brian shared a personal story. Years ago at an IHOP on Staten Island, his friend had ordered a side of bacon. When the waitress came to clear the plates, Brian grabbed the last, uneaten strip. At the time, he was a vegetarian trying to transition to veganism. “I would fall off the plant-based wagon,” he admitted. But he knew succumbing to one bacon temptation could not derail him from his grander objectives; it only strengthened his resolve.

The Reducetarian umbrella covers a number of diets, including vegetarian, vegan, omnivore and flexitarian. At the sold-out conference, the 720 attendees were encouraged to choose pins that best described their personality and interests. Within the first hour of the two-day event, the “vegan” bin was empty; the “Slytherin” bowl remained untouched. On an opposite table, a sign read, “I Reduce: For My Health.” Tote bags conveyed the movement’s inclusive message: “It’s not all or nothing. Everyone is welcome.”

During his opening statements, Brian laid out the Reducetarian goals: to lower the global consumption of animal products by 10 per cent.

To help meet this challenge, he recommended individuals and families alter traditional eating patterns with such practices as Meatless Mondays, weekday vegetarianism or vegan-before-6-p.m.

Jonathan Safran Foer, who explores the connection between food and climate change in his new book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, shared his personal strategy at the meeting. The novelist said he will eat vegan for breakfast and lunch but go whole hog (figuratively speaking) for dinner.

To assist budding Reducetarians, Brian has published a cookbook and is working on a documentary called Meat Me Halfway, which includes a comical scene starring his parents and an avocado. (He screened a clip at the conference.) The Reducetarian website, which receives half a million unique visitors a year, offers a trove of resources, such as a video of Brian’s TEDxCUNY talk from November 2014, a blog with news items and recipes (sample dishes include breakfast tofu “chorizo” tacos and creamy coconut vegetable korma), and a pledge to eat less meat for 30 days.

Pledge-takers will receive encouraging emails during their month-long effort.

Reducetarianism is deeply tied to environmental and animal welfare causes, but its health benefits are undeniable. A plant-rich diet can help ward off many ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes. It can also boost your mood and lengthen your life expectancy.

To gain the health advantage, you don’t need to eliminate meat from your menu — just play around with the food group ratios.

As for Russell Kateman, the new convert regularly dines on sautéed broccoli, soups and salads.

He still eats a steak once a month, with his son’s full support.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press newspaper

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 . . . . .