An Israeli scientist prepares food from fruit fly larvae.
(photo credit: screenshot)
"It tastes nutty," the middle-aged Israeli entrepreneur said as he munched away at fruit fly larvae before processing the rice-size yellowish creatures into protein powder.
Eran Gronich, founder and CEO of FlyingSpArk, says his privately-owned food tech start-up has developed insect powder and oil extract as an alternative protein source that can potentially be a substitute for meat, poultry and fish.
"In insect protein you have all the good stuff without the bad stuff," Gronich said from his office in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, where fruit and vegetables were being chopped to feed to larvae which then reproduce before being made into powder and oil samples.
With market demand growing for edible insects, the developers say fruit fly larvae have an edge over other edible insects in the market, such as grasshoppers, crickets or meal worms, because they have no legs, wings, antennas or eyes.
The fruit flies also have short life span of six days, compared with four weeks for other insects. They are easy to cultivate, cheap and highly sustainable, and there is no greenhouse gas pollution.
Moreover, Yoram Yerushalmi, FlyingSpArk's co-founder and chief technology officer, says the nutritional values of the larvae can be influenced by their diet.
"Those guys can eat a variety of fruits and sugary vegetables, like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and stuff, so we think and know that the nutritional values of the larvae themselves that we process into the powder actually are being influenced by what they eat," said Yerushalmi.
ISRAELI COMPANY SEES THE FUTURE IN FLY LARVAE BURGERS (REUTERS)
After the thick off-white larvae paste is processed, 70 percent is turned into powder sold at about $15,000 USD a ton. With its long shelf life it can then be used for food products such as bread and pasta, or even meatballs.
The remaining liquid, sold for $70-$80 USD per kilogram, is turned into a crystal clear oil that can be used for dietary supplements and even cosmetics, according to its developers.
The company's products have already received recognition from industry giants IKEA that are seeking to add the protein boost powder to their food products, Grunich said.
Swedish furniture and home accessories giant IKEA has selected Flying SpArk as one of ten firms to join its new start-up accelerator 'Ikea Bootcamp', chosen from a field of 1,200.
In Israel, even though insects are deemed non-kosher for consumption, chef Yair Feinberg who owns a culinary innovations studio in Tel Aviv, has taken up the challenge to create more traditional food dishes out of the larvae powder.
Feinberg and his fellow chefs said they had found just the right ingredients to turn the powder into delicious Swedish inspired meatballs, termed "flyballs".
"I don't think it will replace meat but I think it can actually...be part of the human diet in the future years," Feinberg said.
Overcoming what the developers call the "yuck factor" is the main challenge facing the company as it attempts to penetrate the food industry in the western world and move beyond developing countries accustomed to edible insects.
The global market for edible insects was $33 million (USD) in 2015, according to Global Market Insights, and is expected to grow 40 percent by 2023.
Grunich and Yerushalmi hope eventually to grow larvae in any climate zone - even in space - and produce protein powders locally to help solve a worsening global food crisis.