From creeps to chips

Smart design of novel food sources towards tailored digestibility and personalization


Targeting the abolishment of world hunger, food manufacturers and government agencies seek to secure a long lasting and nourishing food supply chain. Today, the FAO, scientists and various food manufacturers believe that one of the major nutritional challenges is and will be the provision of nutritious, diverse and sustainable edible proteins.

Dietary proteins are essential to health throughout the human lifespan, as the key sources of essential amino acids, bioactive peptides and as delivery vehicles for other nutrients and bioactive compounds. Moreover, proteins play various functional roles in food's properties and sensorial perception, e.g. as gelling agents in deserts.

Thus, it is no surprise scientists, food manufacturers and entrepreneurs are going through great lengths to mine natural sources, such as plants, algae and insects, for novel edible proteins. In fact, the efforts to generate new edible protein solutions have been included in the framework of recent H2020 programs as well as the EIT Food knowledge and innovation community in which the Technion is one of the leading members.

The vivid Israeli food-tech scene has already sprouted startup companies seeking the commercialization of plant, algae and insects as human food sources. However, such endeavors need to face various scientific, technological and psychological challenges. Plant and algae proteins are considered natural and healthy, yet their production, functionality and palatability can be challenging. Similarly, insect proteins are perceived as exotic, sustainable and nourishing, however, assessment of their allergenicity and consumer acceptance pose additional challenges. In spite of the wealth of challenges, one can already find a rising selection of products comprised or containing such novel plant and animal proteins on supermarket shelves or on-line. To this end, the researchers of the faculty have been engaged in various endeavors transforming fundamental material, food and nutrition sciences into the applicable arena. 

In respect to algae utilization, Technion researchers led by Prof. Yoav D. Livney have led an EIT FOOD KIC funded project on micro-algae processing, component characterization and innovative product development. This first of a kind pan-European competitive project has provided a team of Technion graduate students with relevant fundamental training and access to the unique pilot scale infrastructure. In turn, the team has applied their diverse interdisciplinary set of skills and knowledge in the development of a tasty micro-algae-based food product.

The team and the product will take part in a competition that will be hosted in December 2018 at the Technion during which the winning team will be announced.



 Microalgae-based Falafel-like product developed by Technion graduate students


In respect to edible insects, Prof. Lesmes and PhD student, Ms. Tatyana David-Birman, have been leading efforts to elucidate the nutritional potential and digestibility of various edible insects. Thanks to the generous support of the Laura Flug Family Fund and the Israeli Ministry of Health, this on-going project aims to lay the scientific and technological principles for the rational processing of insect-based products towards optimal bioaccessibility, digestibility and personalization to consumer needs. This work combines bioreactor-based human digestion models with state of the art analytics (e.g. proteomic analyses) to advance our understanding of the digestibility of different insect proteins upon ingestion by different target populations, e.g. infants or elderly people.


One of the first studies published from this project (Food Hydrocolloids, 2018, Vol. 79, Pages 48-54) reports the implications of thermal processing of cricket (Acheta domesticus) flour on its physiochemical properties, antioxidant capacity and bioaccessibility in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy adults.

Overall, the study shows processing of cricket flours causes various thermally-induced phenomena, such as protein cross-linking and Maillard glycation; phenomena that are accompanied by an improvement in the flour's antioxidant capacity. Interestingly, this report is also one of the first to show that common processing operations, e.g. baking, may increase the gastric proteolysis of cricket proteins, i.e. improve its digestibility. As such, it supports the notion that rational design of processing operations can be harnessed to unleash the nutritional potential of insect proteins.



Food for thought: Studies show thermal processing can unleash some of the

functionality insect proteins and modulate their digestibility in adults and the elderly.


Further, Ms. David-Birman is also exploring insect protein bioaccessibility within the gut of adults and seniors. This part of the work has coupled in vitro digestion models with proteomic analyses to study the digestive fate of silk moth pupae flour. The findings of this project enable the team to shed some light into the possible generation of bioactive peptides during human digestion of insects and insect-based products in the gut of adults and people over 70 years of age. Acquisition of such scientific information may prove to be a significant milestone on the path of food professionals to perform rational design of insect containing or insect- based food products for this and other specific target populations.


In conclusion, current efforts of the food industry and entrepreneurs seem to focus on premium products that satisfy consumers' acceptance, preferences and needs and are therefore profitable. Yet, the development of novel nutritional solutions that are affordable, sustainable and palatable are on the rise, with edible proteins taking the front stage. Alternative protein sources derived from plants, algae and insects should be carefully developed to ensure optimal utilization of natural resources and maximal personalization to the consumer needs. To cope with the complexity and challenges of such developments, academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and the relevant agencies should orchestrate their efforts. This will be elemental to the global efforts to ensure food safety and security for years to come.  


For the digital issue focusing on Food Tech, for the World Food Day 2018