Crickets and mealworms are both insect species that have recently gained attention as sustainable protein sources for human consumption. Crickets, in particular, have grown in popularity, with cricket powder becoming a trendy new addition to protein shakes and health foods. But could mealworms also be used as a source of cricket powder? Let’s delve into the key factors to consider.
Nutritional Profile of Crickets vs Mealworms
The nutritional value of crickets and mealworms is quite similar. Both are high-quality complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Crickets and mealworms also contain reasonable amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin B12, and more.
However, some slight differences give crickets an edge:
- Crickets contain slightly more protein per gram than mealworms – about 70% protein vs 60% protein.
- Crickets have a better omega 3 to omega six ratio. They are higher in omega 3s, while mealworms are higher in omega 6s.
- Crickets contain useful prebiotic fiber to support gut health, whereas mealworms do not.
- Crickets may be easier to digest than mealworms for some people.
So, while the overall nutrition content is comparable, crickets do appear to offer some advantages over mealworms. This supports using crickets specifically for protein powder rather than switching to mealworms.
Taste and Texture Differences
Taste and texture also factor into the suitability of crickets vs mealworms for turning into protein powder.
Whole crickets have an earthy, nutty flavor that blends more smoothly into protein powders. Mealworms are more bland in taste but can have a gritty, grainy texture.
When processed into powder, crickets retain a milder flavor and powdery consistency that works well in shakes and baked goods. Mealworm powder may be more detectable flavor-wise and grittier in texture, making crickets the better choice for protein powder processing.
Popularity and Acceptance
Currently, cricket protein powder is rising quickly in popularity, while mealworm powder is still relatively unknown. The market and consumer demand is focused on cricket powder specifically.
Crickets have a perception as a more sustainable and eco-friendly protein choice compared to traditional livestock. Their branding as a futuristic superfood makes cricket powder appeal to health and environmentally-conscious consumers.
Mealworms lack the same eco-friendly perception and are more associated with animal feed. There is less consumer awareness and excitement around mealworms as a protein source. Capitalizing on the surging demand for cricket powder makes more marketing sense.
Regarding production, crickets again appear preferable to mealworms for efficient protein powder manufacturing.
Some key points:
- Crickets have a much faster growth rate, reaching maturity in 5-7 weeks versus 3-5 months for mealworms. This allows for quicker turnover and yields.
- Crickets can be raised in greater density than mealworms. Up to 150 crickets can inhabit a square foot, while only 50-60 mealworms can occupy the same space.
- Crickets have a higher feed conversion ratio than mealworms, requiring 2 lbs of feed for every 1 lb of weight gain versus 3:1 for mealworms. This results in greater efficiency.
- Crickets only require 12-15% protein feed compared to 18-20% for mealworms. Lower protein requirement lowers feed costs.
- Automated cricket farms with tiered vertical housing systems are easier to operate than current mealworm operations.
With advantages in speed, density, efficiency and ease of farming, crickets are the superior large-scale production choice over mealworms at this time.
Turning the raw insect protein into usable powder also favors crickets over mealworms.
- Crickets have an exoskeleton made of chitin, while mealworms have a harder skin made of keratin. The softer chitin shell of crickets is easier to remove during processing.
- Mealworms require an additional processing step of activating the larvae into beetles before harvesting. Avoiding this extra time and labor makes crickets more efficient.
- The small size and uniform shape of crickets allow for easier grinding and processing than the larger, irregular mealworms.
- Crickets are easier to roast, dry, and powderize using automated systems compared to mealworms, which tend to clump.
Overall, crickets provide a faster and more streamlined option for large-scale insect powder production. Mealworms may prove more challenging and costly to process in powder form.
Potential Drawbacks of Mealworm Powder
While the nutritional profile of mealworms seems suitable on paper, there are some potential issues with using mealworm powder:
- Allergenicity – Some proteins in mealworms may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Reports of allergy are higher for mealworms than crickets.
- Anti-Nutritional Factors – Mealworms contain anti-nutritional substances like phytates and tannins that slightly inhibit protein and mineral absorption. Crickets have lower levels.
- Storage Concerns – Mealworm powder’s higher fat content at ~25% makes it prone to faster oxidation and spoilage during storage compared to cricket powder’s ~5-8% fat. Proper formulation is needed to prevent rancidity.
- Lower Digestibility – As mentioned, the harder outer skin and higher fiber of mealworms may make their nutrients slightly less digestible than the softer cricket exoskeleton.
While not dealbreakers, these factors merit consideration and comparison testing before switching to mealworms as the insect protein source.
Potential Benefits of Mealworm Powder
Despite the advantages of cricket powder, using mealworms is not without merit:
- Nutrient Density – Mealworm powder still provides high quality complete proteins, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. The nutrition differences between the two are small.
- Lower Cost – Mealworm production requires less feed protein and may be cheaper at large scale production. This can lower powder cost.
- Different Use Cases – Mealworm powder may work better than crickets in some products, like high fat baked goods where mealworm fat could help texture.
- Novelty Factor – Mealworm powder offers a new alternative protein for those wanting to switch from cricket powder for variety.
With the above benefits in mind, mealworms may still have potential if parameters like allergenicity are not problematic. Their use could complement cricket powder in certain applications.
Research and Testing Needed
More research and product testing is recommended before swapping cricket powder for mealworm powder in foods. Key questions to answer include:
- How do allergenic properties compare and what is risk of reactions?
- Does the higher fat and fiber content of mealworm powder impact digestibility and nutrient bioavailability?
- How does mealworm powder effect texture, flavor and shelf stability in different products?
- Are efficiencies and economies of scale comparable between the two at mass production?
- Are environmental impacts like feed conversion, water usage and emissions equal?
Research collaborations between food scientists, nutritionists, insect farmers and powder producers can help provide real-world data. Prototype testing in protein bars, baked goods and shakes will shed light on how mealworm powder differs from cricket powder.
Open-mindedness to a potential new protein source balanced with scientific diligence to understand implications is prudent.
Starting Small for Now
Until more evidence supports interchangeability, the recommendation for manufacturers is to maintain cricket powder as the primary insect protein source and mealworm powder as a secondary option.
With cricket powder’s rise in popularity and proven nutritional, sensory and production qualities, it is lower risk to focus scale up efforts here. Mealworm powder could be introduced in small batches for specific products where it outperforms crickets.
This allows tapping into growing demand for cricket protein while cautiously positioning mealworms as an alternative protein possibility. It provides flexibility to shift between insect sources as more comparisons become available.
Choosing Sustainable Protein for the Future
The use of insects like crickets and mealworms for human food represents an important move towards more sustainable protein to feed a growing population. Both offer an eco-friendly alternative to resource-intensive traditional livestock.
However, as seen from the above factors, crickets currently appear better suited for efficient large-scale production of insect protein powder over mealworms. The surge in popularity makes cricket powder the ideal starting point for manufacturers entering this space.
With further research and testing, mealworms may prove another viable insect protein option in time. Their introduction could expand the range of sustainable, nutritious high-protein foods.
Regardless of insect source, protein powders made from crickets, mealworms, and other insects are an exciting option for enhancing nutrition while protecting the planet. As technology and research progress, different species with their own beneficial properties will join the sustainable protein toolbox.
The future looks bright for deliciously nutritious foods sourced from insects that are kinder to the Earth.