What Happens When Insect Fat Replaces Butter in Belgian Waffles?

Public Domain. Unsplash / Jodie Morgan

A taste-test between the two kinds of fat had a surprising outcome.

Belgians are experts when it comes to waffles. And yet, when presented with waffles that were made partially with insect fat instead of butter, they could not tell the difference! This surprising discovery, made by researchers from Ghent University, indicates a solid argument for replacing climate intensive dairy-based fats with much lower impact insect fats in baked goods, without affecting flavor, consistency or color.

The study, led by long-time edible insect researcher Daylan Tzompa-Sosa, used fat made from black soldier fly larvae. Three types of waffles were made: one that was all butter with no insect fat, one that was 75 percent butter and 25 percent insect fat, and one that was half butter, half insect fat. Tasters could not decipher among the different recipes.

Tzompa-Sosa has long been an advocate of embracing edible insects for their healthy fats, not just their protein. For too long we've been discarding insect oils, when we really should be eating them because they're arguably healthier for us than other forms of fat. Tzompa-Sosa told the Brussels Times,

"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."

The black soldier fly is impressively fatty, with 140 grams of fat per kilogram. In comparison, beef has 187 grams per kilo and a house cricket 68g/kg (via The Scientist). Insect fat takes take fewer resources to produce, as insects can be raised in intensive feeding operations without triggering the same ethical debates over welfare and consciousness that animals do. Insects could be grown locally in large quantities, eliminating the transportation footprint that accompanies the consumption of Mediterranean-based and tropical fats such as olive, palm, and coconut oils.

The biggest hurdle is the ickiness factor and helping people to get over their instinctive sense of disgust at eating insects. That's where baked goods could come in handy. Much like cricket flour or protein powder is an easy entry point for 'entomophagy' (the act of eating insects), it is easier to wrap one's head around eating a waffle made with insect butter than to munch on roasted crickets or a mealworm taco.

But don't worry, you're not about to see insect fat popping up at the corner bakery. The Brussels Times says production is still only small-scale and expensive, but with research like this, you never know – it could change quickly.