As insects emerge as an alternative protein source, what are the allergen risks?

Researchers at Australia’s Edith Cowen University and CSIRO have helped to identify 20 proteins found in cricket food products that could cause serious allergic reactions in some people. Those most at risk are people with shellfish allergy.

As the global population continues to increase towards an estimated 9.7 billion by 2050, insects hold promise as an alternative protein source to help keep up with growing food demands. Numerous studies have shown insects are high in antioxidants and eating insects can provide benefits to gut health and lower blood pressure. In particular, crickets are high in protein, nutrient dense, and considered environmentally friendly. However, the protein content and nutritional value varies substantially between cricket sub-species, developmental stages, source of collection (farm or open-field) and processing method (boiling, baking or roasting).

Crickets, mealworms and other insects are closely related to crustaceans, increasing the chance that people who are allergic to shellfish will also react to insect protein. With shellfish allergies affecting up to three per cent of the global population, this may become a significant issue.

The research team from Edith Cowen University, CSIRO, James Cook University, and Singapore’s Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) compared proteins from whole crickets, roasted whole crickets, and roasted cricket powder products to known allergens. Their results can now be used to detect cricket-derived allergens in food products that can support allergen labelling and safe food manufacturing practices.

Reference: Bose et al. 2021. Journal of Food Chemistry. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2021.129110

Access the full paper here.

Additional reporting: see the article “Putting bugs on the menu – safely” published by Edith Cowen University.