Mealworm 'meat' team competes to feed the world

Mealworm team

Robert Barker/University Photography
Lee Cadesky, front, and team members Rachel Saputo and Dan Caticha, offer tasting samples of C-fu, a new protein product made from crushed mealworms, at the Mann Library lobby Jan. 29.
C-fu protein food made from mealworms

Robert Barker/University Photography
C-fu, made using crushed mealworms.

Think tofu but with a creepy-crawly, sustainable twist: A Cornell food science team will compete Feb. 14 at the Thought for Food Global Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, with C-fu – a new protein product made entirely of crushed mealworms – that may help feed the world’s booming population, a projected 9 billion people by midcentury.

“C-fu can do a lot of things because it’s not just a single product. It’s a raw material that can be the platform for a whole new array of insect-sourced foods. It’s analogous to fresh cheese or tofu, which can be modified or reprocessed into hundreds or even thousands of very different foods,” said Lee Cadesky, a graduate student in the field of food science, who leads the team.

Insectivores can enjoy C-fu fried, boiled, baked, dipped, grilled, fermented, salted or dried. Tasters describe it as “nutty,” “bready” and “eggy.” Cadesky explained: “We’ve done a lot of experimenting to see what other things we can make out it. I think it represents a new functionality for insect protein.”

Cadesky and his team – Rachel Saputo, a graduate student in the field of applied behavioral economics; Dan Caticha ’16, biology; and Eli Cadesky, Lee Cadesky’s brother and an MBA candidate at the York University Schulich School of Business, Toronto – competed with 350 colleges in 51 countries for one of the final 10 spots at the Thought for Food competition. The grand prize is $10,000. The other global finalist teams are from England, Sweden, Uganda, Bangladesh, India, Australia and Brazil.

Fabulously dense in micronutrients, C-fu requires a tiny fraction of land and water to produce compared with beef and chicken, and C-fu production emits substantially fewer greenhouse gases.

Of his protein food Cadesky said: “We've only scratched the surface. There are 1,900 edible insect species, and we think we can make C-fu from most, if not all, of them. We want to taste the whole edible taxonomy and create completely new foods that humans have never seen.”

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