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Better cricket powder processing--The path to a cheaper, safer, more nutritious cricket powder

Hey all--

In my MBA program at the University of Wisconsin, we're working on a business plan for a cost-efficient industrial-scale insect food processing business.

I feel there's a lot of focus on the farming and the consumer product development for insect foods, and there might be an opportunity to enable the entire value chain by building up a processing business that would be able to buy the crickets from the farmers, process them to a powder, and then cheaply sell that to consumer product manufacturers.

It would be great to hear your thoughts or be directed to resources about the processing issues. Ideally, we would like the process to achieve 3 goals with the cricket powder: • Cheaper cricket powder than currently available • Safer product with supply from approved farmers (that follow Codex Alimentarius food safety guidelines) and with processing according to strict food safety standards (HACCP) • More nutritious powder with process that preserves crickets nutrients

We're at the beginning of this, so have some big issues to work through. Some key questions occur to us now... --Is it more efficient for the farming to be separate or combined? It seems that each effort (the farming and the processing) require a complete separate set of expertise, equipment, and process, and it would be more efficient now at this stage in the industry's early phase to have separate firms focused on each. Are there particular issues specifically related to insect husbandry where it would actually make more sense to do both under one roof? --What are the processes currently being used and who is providing them currently for the current insect food consumer products (Chapul, Exo, bitty) ? We've heard of meat-grinding and flour milling type methods. What are the advantages, disadvantages? What is the equipment involved? We found that heating/boiling can reduce the nutritional content of crickets. Freezing also came up, but that seems like it would be too costly.

Would be great to hear from anyone has any suggestions/comments on the above or who is working through similar issues.

Best, Eric, eric.bescak@gmail.com

Comments

  • edited October 2014

    Kudos on this endeavour!

  • I see no reason to mimic the existing food system which relies on transportation to get raw materials to various different hands for processing. The beauty of crickets and insect stock in general is the ability for farmers to process their own raw materials with relatively little investment.

    I have never used a meat grinding method, only having used manual grinders intended for spice/coffee. I find dehydrating the crickets to be ideal prior to milling in this way, and preserves more nutrients.

    I don't know who is currently providing commercial services and how, but there is plenty of room for others to step in as an authority. I believe exo uses a drying process prior to milling but am not certain how they mill. I'm sure the friendly folks over there would be open to sharing however.

    I am involved more so from a marketing standpoint, so am definitely not as knowledgable on the commercial side of things. Would be happy to do some deep research on this if it is of interest to enough folks,

  • edited October 2014

    Whoops double post.

  • how do u dehydrating the cricket? do u use oven?

  • Thanks, Pixelstead! I'll reach out to exo and see if I get a response.

    In addition to flour milling, meat grinding...you raise a good point with the coffee grinding. That process may be more relevant/parallel with the roasting and grinding involved. And I guess cleaning would be an important step as well.

    A Galuh, I think you do need to dehydrate the cricket somehow. I want to figure out the best method for cost, saftey, nutrion.

    I saw an article about Aaron Dossey and how he has a method. Would be good to hear what folks think...

    Dossey said his method is more efficient from a cost, energy and time perspective. "The old way that everybody but me that I know of is doing is you roast the insects, cook them in an oven until they’re dry enough, and then you grind them into a powder," Dossey said. "Mine is a much more efficient process. And I use less heat so you’re degrading the nutrients less, because heat kills nutrients." http://www.redandblack.com/variety/local-business-makes-protein-powder-from-bugs/article_7ad221d0-9834-11e3-96c8-0017a43b2370.html

  • Great article!

    I don't know how he does it, but there are plenty of cheap options beyond an oven. I plan to build something of this nature to experiment. motherearthnews.com/diy/solar-food-dehydrator-plans-zm0z14jjzmar.aspx

    The two major flaws in the solar method is having to rely on the sun and clouds each day, plus difficulty in regulating temperature for consistency in the final product.

    Galuh, there are many commercial electric dehydrators as well, that is what I have used in the past. The type with circular trays with a fan on top. Definitely useful for experimenting, but too small for commercial applications.

    It's an exciting time for Entomophagy, I wouldn't be surprised if this growing industry spins off a slew of improved and updated dehydrator/milling processes. Already we see products like the mealworm farm kit appearing, these others are hopefully not far off.

  • Aaron Dossey himself has not told me of his methods. The following are my assumptions since he specifies is not using heat to process crickets & laboratory background as a molecular biology PhD.

    I suggest his no-heat cricket preparation, prior to grinding them up, is probably to place them in a "vaccuum dehydrator" (eBay sells these). From a laboratory perspective (ex: no contamination) this would be done to a batch of CO2 gas euthanized crickets (ex: valve lets CO2 into an enclosure) that were subsequently washed (ex: externally dis-infected with dilute bleach), rinsed clean (ex: 2-3 rinses) & then surface blotted dry (ex: paper towels wrapped in aluminum foil & sterilized in a pressure cooker/autoclave) before the externally clean crickets (ex: disposible glove handled) are then put in the clean vaccuum dehydrator (ex: alcohol wiped out).

    To make the end-product from the desiccated crickets I surmise he is using either a laboratory version of a "hammermill", or has scaled up to a higher capacity table top "hammermill grinder" (eBay has various price ranges & pictures). These only pulverize already dry matter & are used for powdering pharmaceutical compounds (ex: dried herbs); they don't use rotating blades like a food processor/blender. (The "fat" content of the insect may make a hammermill a little harder to clean up than otherwise.) This method of pulverization renders the insect exoskeleton unrecognizable in the mass of bug "flour".

  • Gringojay, you're like the entomophagy superman!

    That seems like a pretty solid process you have laid out there, and will look into how it might be pulled off in an industrial-scale HACCP-system. It seems very labor-intensive, but definitely has the potential for automation.

    What strikes/concerns me now is the use of bleach in an ingredient for human consumption. That may be a tough sell, especially with a product that most consumers would already be wary of.

    Are there any alternatives to bleach you would suggest?

  • Hi ericbescak, - Sodium hypo-chlorite is used in food processing & if a few years ago you ever ate fresh vegetables with a lot of crannies, like cilantro, then you've survived bleach cleaned food. The chlorine gets "spent" when it comes into contact with molecules of organic matter; when swiped on kitchen surfaces/floor/fabric that is matter that is not associated with life (organic). It is the % of chlorine that one wants to access; food processing dilutions of sodium hypo-chlorite (bleach) are mixed so there is only about 0.2 gr./liter of free clorine that will be around.

    Acidified sodium chlorite is a more recently approved (~15 years ago in U.S.A.) & preferable (in western countries) food sanitizing agent; it is sold as pre-mix of sodium chlorite + citric acid. The process is to take 0.5-1.2 gr./L of sodium chlorite & acidify it (w/citric acid) to 2.5-3.2 pH; then the active dis-infectant released is chloride di-oxide. Acidified sodium chlorite at 1.2g/liter in solution treating many kinds of fresh vegetables for 1 minute kills 99.9% of Listeria mono-cytogenes, various Salmonela & the bad kind of E.Coli (O157;H7).

    Chlorinated water is also used for dis-infecting fresh food; at about 100 - 120 ppm for 2 minutes. Of course the problem with using chlorine is needing to dilute it & the pure compound of chlorine is more risky for the wafting into workers' respiratory tract (& skin).

    Ozone (O3) dis-infects better than chlorine (100 ppm) when use 0.6 ppm ozone for 10 minutes; it can be also be used bubbled through water in submerge the food item. There are several parameters to consider about ozone that make it less simple to use than any of the above mentioned forms of chlorine/chlorite.

    For a (2014) comparison of bleach with dis-infecting with ozone see: "Alternative sanitization methods for minimally processed lettuce in comparison to sodium hypochlorite". Free full text = http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3910173/

  • Thanks for disinfecting info! Will see what works best with the HACCP plan.

    As far as drying goes, I'm also exchanging with one of the researchers at Wageningen U. He mentioned that the main drying method in commercial processing in Europe is freeze drying...which is not something he recommends due to energy requirements. Because of the language challenges, he wasn't sure if the vacuum dehydrator you (gringojay) describe also involves a freezedryer. Does it?

    He also mentioned how in tropical countries sundrying is most common, which would not be great for Wisconsin. But a solar collector like Pixelstead mentioned might make sundrying an option.

    Here's his recommendation: "Personally, for people I give crickets to, I tell them to blanche the crickets (short period in boiling water), which should be effective against (most) pathogens, and does not leave any residues, besides maybe water. You do need to think about whether you want fat in there (and to which extent). When decreasing size, grinding for instance, indeed the high fat content can "smear" which can make you loose a significant part of your product, and will no be fun to clean out either. So I would say, blanche, dry, defat (if needed) and grind. Not sure on the details though."

    What do you think of this? Instead of bake and grind, it's boil and grind. Since there's heat involved, I'm sure the nutritional content gets impacted. But would be good to know what really the nutritional impact is with all these methods (baking, boiling, freezedrying, vacuum). That would help determine how worthwhile it would be to invest in the more sophisticated methods.

  • In my MBA program at the University of Wisconsin, we're working on a business plan for a cost-efficient industrial-scale insect food processing business.

    Would you be willing to share that plan when it's finished? I am in Oregon and help people run businesses - and this is particularly intriguing to me.

  • The thing to remember with chlorine is so long as it doesn't chemically react and bond with anything in the crickets it'll evaporate so use a tumbler with some airflow and it should remove any excess. I like the idea of ozone. It also will tend to leech out rather quickly. Most of the ozone systems I know about are designed for liquids

    As to grinding them treat them like anything you want to make a flour out of, just use flour mills. You can get one of any scale from table top to industrial. For proof of concept use a coffee grinder.

    CO2 is the easy way to deal with euthanizing crickets. Once again for proof of concept use baking soda and vinegar to produce the CO2. You can link two jars together, one for the crickets and one for the baking soda and vinegar. Once you scale up CO2 comes in air tanks.

  • I can see how external blanching or chlorine disinfecting might wash the exterior of the crickets but are there any internal parasites to consider and if so how could those be dealt with?

  • @gringojay mentions the hammer mill grinder making the exoskeleton unrecognizable from the "flour". Is this the method typically used by commercial operations or is preferred to ensure the exoskeleton is sieved from the "flour" prior to making available for sale? Are there benefits to having pulverized exoskeleton in the "flour". Any clarification on this would be appreciated. thx!

  • Fascinating discussion. I look forward to more.

  • @cricketeer - the pulverize exoskeleton is mostly chiton which humans digest as fiber and which is also beneficial as a feed additive (I believe there is more on this elsewhere on the forum)

  • thx @andrew I was looking at more the human element for now. Is there any particular system people find best to grind to powder? I'm thinking a smaller electric grain mill. If so, any brand preferred over others.

  • Hi cricketeer, - A grain mill is going to give you wheat flour with an average of 1.87% "fat" if start with whole wheat. Thai cricket flour is being marketed as having 18% "fat" (http://www.thailandunique.com/cricket-flour-protein-powder)..

    I think the surface plates of a non-industrial grain mill are going to be more readily clogged up with an oily mass due to the high amount of insect & require more frequent disassembly (ie: time/work) than if use a blade. In my opinion a mini-blender (like "bullet" design) or small electric coffee grinder have good designs for grinding ; food processors & tall blenders seem to have too large an internal space which lets particles escape the blade. Only thing is the smaller implements have motors that are not designed for long use; they won't be ideal for commercial production.

    For those interested in developing their own alternative insect "mill" equipment here is a schematic of a hammer mill = http://www.feedmachinery.com/glossary/images/hammermill_1.jpg

    A welder can make their own hammer mill or one for you (adjust screen size for particle diameter want) =

    Here's an idea of what using 4 hammers as above video suggested would look like = http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Hammer+Mill+Plans&view=detailv2&&id=60DC5EE17456F58814C3CEB801149716FCA94571&selectedIndex=0&ccid=hCinABz4&simid=608011801802507457&thid=JN.Png5CKnBQ+w+fjagI82HEQ&ajaxhist=0

    If want a larger scale homemade hammer mill & more ideas on how to design the "hammers" to flail more here's another design(adjust screen size for particle size want)

    Clear examples of different hammermill screen sizes = http://www.fitzmill.com/assets/images/gallery/43/hammer_mill_screens__large.jpg

    These kinds of compact units come in different Kg/hr capacity & are capable of making a powder (use different screen sizes) because of internal chamber wall design the "hammers" drive particles into = http://www.ebay.com/itm/Brand-Desk-Top-Automatic-Continuous-Hammer-Mill-Herb-Grinder-Pulverizer-15kg-h-/291415358604?hash=item43d9b57c8c

    Inside view of table top pulverizer, showing machined interior = http://buyyou.net/ASC365_canada/Admin/170/140/5.jpg

    Detail of pulverizers, note how the internal wall is not smooth; this keeps a particle beating apart best = http://buyyou.net/ASC365_canada/Admin/170/140/8.jpg

  • Edit: 1st video is not technically a hammer mill, sorry for confusion; the steel "hammer" does not flail.

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