Can Crickets Taste Like Beef? Ask Textured Insect Protein.
Monday 9th January
There are many meat replacers out there in the market that taste like meat, but don't necessarily 'give' the way meat does when you bite into it. Enter Textured Insect Protein. We spoke to LEE CADESKY, co-founder and COO at C-fu Foods about their marvellous creation.
What do surimi and insects have in common? Let’s backtrack a little.
Insects share some proteins with fish and shellfish as they are evolutionary cousins. Surimi is a general term for restructured fish protein ingredients that are the basis for dozens of products, including the familiar mock crab you see in sushi.
Developed in early 20th century Japan, surimi was created to deal with unwanted fish caught in nets that were introduced to replace pole-and-line fishing. People were reluctant to eat certain fish species that, while perfectly good food, did not form their usual diet. Surimi provided a way to abstract and restructure that discarded fish into something familiar, and today surimi products are bountiful in the market.
The United Nations published a report in 2013, putting their support behind the idea of eating insects as a food security measure. Despite a few products being on the market, there weren’t many insect-based meat replacers available. A lack of concerted effort to popularise insects for consumption also did little to whet appetites for insects.
Recognising this, Lee Cadesky, co-founder of C-fu Foods and One Hop Kitchen, figured insects might work with similar processing techniques as those used for surimi. Lee had written a paper on surimi whilst a grad student studying food sciences at Cornell University, and noticed parallels between eating insects and the history of surimi.
Several experiments later, Lee and his brother-in-crime Eli came up with a way to texturise insect proteins into meat, dairy and egg replacers. They called this ‘textured insect protein’ or TIP. The process involved getting the proteins to build 3D networks, similar to how cheese is made on a molecular level. These networks form the basis of a food’s texture. They’ve since discovered different applications for TIP and are continuously innovating for more.
TIP purees nicely to make a base for spreads and desserts. It’s also a good emulsifier and replacement for eggs in baking. However, meat replacement is the primary application of TIP. “What’s cool about TIP is that it cooks like meat,” shares Lee. TIP browns in a pan and takes on new flavours as it cooks, not unlike the wonderful aromas and flavours unlocked during the Maillard reaction!
The Importance of Texture and Solubility
What sets C-fu Food’s meat replacers apart is the attention to texture and solubility. A food’s texture influences how we experience the sensation of chewing and eating and how flavours are released into our mouths. Meats and meat replacers have specific textures in common: they tend to be chewy and fibrous. Making a food taste like meat can be easy with the right flavourings but mimicking the texture requires an understanding of the molecular structure and how to manipulate it to form fibres and firm textures.
“Texture is one of the last things we notice in a food after sight, smell, and initial taste but it shapes much of the eating experience” Lee points out. If you look closely at many foods, you’ll find they have simultaneous and contrasting textures which create enjoyable eating experiences. Candy bars often contrast crunchy and smooth textures and layer flavours in between to create a positive experience that changes with each bite.
Solubility is roughly the opposite of texture but is equally important for a wide range of food functions. It relates to how a molecule interacts with water and whether or not it allows water to get close to it. If something is highly soluble, you shouldn’t notice any texture when it’s dissolved in water. Soluble ingredients are easy to mix with water and won’t feel chalky or gritty. The human tongue is sensitive to texture so if a beverage isn’t smooth it’s easy to notice and can be unpleasant.
How to Help Consumers Overcome Their Fear of Eating Insects
“I think positive first experiences are a must” states Lee. “People need a comfortable and delicious first experience with eating insects and so it should be abstracted in some way so they don’t feel like they’re actually eating a bug.” If insects are going to be adopted into a wide range of food products, it’s important that the ingredients work similarly to existing ones so they aren’t rejected by consumers.
Lee sees TIP as a perfect way to encourage people to try bugs in a way that’s meaningful and tasty. TIP can be synthesised into so many different foods, making it a great way to show people that insects aren’t just one food — they’re an entire category with endless possibilities. This diversity of experience is key to getting people to keep trying. “Trying something new is fun and so long as we continue to create new experiences we’ll keep people coming back” notes Lee. “TIP lends itself to more uses than whole bugs, we’re still finding out new applications for it and experimenting with different species — I suspect we will be for a long time.”
(All images from C-fu Foods)
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