Fly larvae on your burger? It's coming, say scientists

SERVE IT UP: Burger patties made from black soldier fly larvae.
SERVE IT UP: Burger patties made from black soldier fly larvae.

The prospect of insects being used in burger patties should only be seen as complementary to livestock production, says an Australian scientist at the forefront of some of the most interesting alternative protein research.

As unappetising as it may sound to those who've been raised on prime Australian beef, the larvae of a waste-eating fly is one of top contenders as a new protein source for humans.

The black soldier fly's larvae, already used for animal food, contains key human health nutrients - it's richer in zinc and iron than lean red meat and its calcium content is as high as that of milk, according to work conducted by University of Queensland meat scientist Professor Louw Hoffman.

Consumer insight work has also shown that when added to beef in patties on a 50:50 basis, the end product has a texture, flavour and colour most people can't distinguish from 100 per cent beef, Prof Hoffman said.

He is now studying the hurdles that need to be overcome before flies can directly enter the human food supply chain.

But should the commercial production of such a product eventuate, it would never replace beef, Prof Hoffman said.

Rather, it would seek to fill niche parts of the market, namely flexitarians looking to reduce their animal protein consumption mainly for perceived environment-protection reasons.

"If you look at alternative proteins, the big companies investing in start-ups worldwide don't see it as competition to animal meat," Prof Hoffman said.

"Nor supermarkets, who are certainly not taking fresh beef off their shelves to make room for plant-based products.

"Rather they are looking at additional markets. Flexitarians, mostly young people, feel they can make a difference to the environment if they eat alternative proteins every now and then."

DINNER TIME: Black soldier fly larvae.

DINNER TIME: Black soldier fly larvae.

On the subject of consumer acceptance, Prof Hoffman points out the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates two billion people around the world already eat insects regularly as part of their diet.

"Eating of insects is old news in Africa and Asia," he said.

"And look at sushi - when it first was available in Western culture, people said yuk, raw fish, but look how popular it is now.

"When the fly larvae is incorporated into another product, I think it will gain consumer acceptance."

MORE TRADITIONAL: University of Queensland meat scientist Professor Louw Hoffman working with kangaroo meat.

MORE TRADITIONAL: University of Queensland meat scientist Professor Louw Hoffman working with kangaroo meat.

Prof Hoffman believes the larger challenge will be in food regulation.

"We need to investigate what feed we can give to larvae to make it safe enough to be a human food source," he said.

"This includes understanding the different nutritional profiles of the fly at key stages of its growth, and the best ways to process the fly to preserve its nutritional value."

Prof Hoffman has also completed a scoping study on how feeding the larvae to poultry effects growth rates and meat taste.

"We've replaced between 75 and 100 per cent of the soya part of poultry rations - which is often up to 60pc of their total feed - and found no change to feed conversion or growth rates, nor to the taste of the meat," he said.

"As well, the larvae seem to have some antimicrobial properties."

This story Fly larvae on your burger? It's coming, say scientists first appeared on Farm Online.