Is Insect Fat the New Butter?
New research says as long as you don’t use too much of it, sure.
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of debates over the flavor and health impact of margarine. But at the very least, margarine has always been able to lean on the fact that it’s made with vegetable oils—something we eat anyway. That’s an issue a new butter alternative might have a problem with: Would you be willing to replace your butter with insect fat?
A study conducted at Ghent University in Belgium looked at “Consumers’ perception of bakery products with insect fat as partial butter replacement” (as the title states), and the research team behind it attempts to make a compelling case to swap out at least some of your butter with bugs. “Insect-based fat is a sustainable and healthy alternative to butter,” the university wrote in announcing the findings. “When in bakery products less than half of the butter is replaced by insect fat, one can hardly taste the difference.”
Indeed, the study baked three items—cookies, cake, and, of course, Belgian waffles—each with three different recipes: a 100-percent butter version, a 25-percent insect fat version, and a half-insect fat version. Over 100 participants per baked good were then served the respective three versions and asked what they thought. For the record, the fat came from black soldier fly larvae—in case that changes your feelings about anything.
In the end, the university writes, “The cake with a quarter of insect fat passed the test: the taste panel did not notice that insect fat was used. In the case of waffles, they did not even notice the presence of insect fat when half of the butter had been replaced. Also, the texture and color were hardly affected as compared with butter.”
The researchers laid out a couple of significant pros. “The ecological footprint of an insect is much smaller compared to animal-based food sources,” Daylan Tzompa-Sosa, who co-authored the study, explained. “Besides, we can grow insects in large quantities in Europe, which also reduces the footprint of transport. After all, palm fat is often imported from outside of Europe.”
Tzompa-Sosa also spoke to the potential health benefits. “Insect fat is a different type of fat than butter,” she continued. “Insect fat contains lauric acid, which provides positive nutritional attributes since it is more digestible than butter. Moreover, lauric acid has an antibacterial, antimicrobial and antimycotic effect. This means that it is able, for example, to eliminate harmless various viruses, bacteria or even fungi in the body, allowing it to have a positive effect on health.”
However, if you’re like me, you may be wondering, Wait, what about the cookies? According to the actual study, the cookies performed as well as the cake at 25 percent insect fat, but fell off more drastically at 50 percent insect fact. “The significant differences for cookies were mainly related to the aftertaste and off-flavor,” the paper states. “Such off-flavors are closely associated with a priori conceptualization of insect foods. Some consumers perceived the aftertaste as bad while others classified it as good. Overall, good aftertaste was scored higher than bad aftertaste suggesting that even though an aftertaste was present, most people perceived it as a positive attribute rather than as negative.” So though the cookies didn’t perform as well in the study, maybe they tasted better?
Regardless, the authors believe that not only could insect fat work as a potential partial butter replacement, but that including “insect ingredients into familiar food products could be a step in enabling a higher acceptance of insects in Western countries.”
“Products with insects such as insect burgers have not yet proved to be a great success. Bakery products with insect fat are more likely to be appreciated, because the insects are merely a form of fat substitute,” explained co-author Joachim Schouteten. Regardless, he said we have a ways to go before we see insect fat products in grocery stores. “Currently the price is still too high, because it is only produced on a small scale.” Feel free to take a sigh of relief if you are so inclined.