New protein flies in the face of convention
Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup… It may seem a little hard to swallow for some, but the larvae of a certain waste-eating fly could become a new, sustainable alternative protein source for humans, according to a University of Queensland scientist.
Professor Louw Hoffman from UQ’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences says the black soldier fly’s larvae, which is already utilised for animal feed, is a high-quality protein. Just like meat, the larvae contain all the nutrients humans need for health. The larvae are richer in zinc and iron than lean meat, and the calcium content is as high as that of milk.
“Their nutritional composition makes them an interesting contender as a meat alternative, and to date they have demonstrated their potential to partially replace meat in burger patties and Vienna sausages,” the professor explains.
Professor Hoffman says the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that two billion people around the world already eat insects regularly as part of their diet.
“The biggest factor that prevents fly proteins being used in our food supply is Western consumers’ acceptance of insects as food,” he says. “We will eat pea or oat milk, even lab-grown meats, but insects just aren’t on Western menus.”
The professor has been studying the potential hurdles that would need to be overcome before the flies can directly enter the human food supply chain.
“There’s a lot of research that’s already been done on black soldier fly larvae as a feed for livestock, but we need to ensure we address safety issues before it can get legs as a human food,” he says. “This includes understanding the different nutritional profiles of the fly at key stages of its growth, and the best ways to process it to preserve its nutritional value.”
While the fly can clean up toxic waste-including heavy metals, it’s recommended flies bred for human consumption be fed only a clean source of organic waste.
In addition to its nutrition profile, there are strong environmental reasons for humans to eat fly larvae. It’s estimated that less than half a hectare of black soldier fly larvae can produce more protein than cattle grazing on 1200 hectares, or 52 hectares of soybeans.
“If you care about the environment, then you should consider and be willing to eat insect protein,” Professor Hoffman says.