What connects crickets, coffee & mushrooms in a sustainable urban food loop? This Danish start-up's protein juice

© Insekt Kbh

Another month, another insect start-up? Maybe, but Danish firm Insekt KBH's apple, ginger and cricket juice is different: it's sustainable not only thanks to its ingredients but because it's produced in Copenhagen's self-sustaining urban food loop.

Co-founded by molecular biologist Jakob Lewin Rukov and business developer Philip Price, the start-up's circular economy came about when Price and Rukov were approached by Bioark, a Copenhagen-based company that works with local restaurants and small food companies to develop self-sustaining food loops that combine bio-inspired technologies with local nutrient streams. 

Bioark helped Insekt KBH operate in a sustainable food loop that involves coffee, mushrooms, tomatoes and crickets (see image).

Lewin Rukov is also the founder of Bugging Denmark an urban cricket farm where the insects are fed partly on mycelia substrate provided by Beyond Coffee, a firm that collects used coffee grinds to grow oyster mushrooms, and partly on apple pulp leftover from Insekt KBH own apple juice production.

The cricket droppings are then re-used as plant fertiliser by urban garden and vegetable producer TagTomat. In this way, different forms of manufacturing residue are 'upcycled' in scalable ecosystems that produce fresh food all year.

Although the crickets in Insekt KBH's juice are currently sourced from Holland (commercial insect farming is not yet legalised in Denmark) the company hopes to ultimately source its crickets from Bugging Denmark. For the minute, the farm organises workshops, lectures and tours showing the general public and private companies how to set up their own insect farms or urban ecosystems.

"It is a two-legged exercise, so to speak. Insekt KBH sells and commodifies, Bugging DK educates and shares vital knowledge," said Price. 

"We do not regard edible insects solely as a business, but as a green movement towards a better world. We want to provide a solution to over-consumption and food waste." 

And cities, with their high density populations and concentrations of food companies, restaurants and supermarkets, are an ideal place to find these solutions.

“We are trying to take advantage of the fact that in an urban environment there is a large concentration of companies that in their own specific, highly specialised ways contribute to sustainable development,” Lewin Rukov told FoodNavigator.

Umami flavour notes

The juice itself has no added sugar or preservatives and is flavoured with apple, ginger, lemon and 15 crickets - the name FEMTEN Fårekyllinger means 15 crickets in

Danish while KBH is a common abbreviation for Copenhagen, or København.

“The umami flavour of the crickets rounds off the inhibited sharpness or 'bite' from the ginger. Our next flavour is going to be apple, beetroot and either buckthorn or aronia,” Price said.

Aronia berries, also known as black chokeberries, are grown extensively across Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, and are high in antioxidants.

Insekt KBH is currently at the go-to-market stage - it sells in retail outlets around Copenhagen - but the start-up is still working on improving the product.

Technical challenges

The cricket powder creates a certain amount of visible sediment in the juice. Could this be off-putting for European consumers who are not used to the idea of eating insects?

“The sediment is not necessarily a consumer issue," said Price. "Referring to contemporary health and organic or natural food trends, sediment is actually a preferred thing as it exhibits authenticity. Obviously, we are striving towards turning the sediment as least invasive as possible."

Insekt KBH recently won a 500,000 DKK (€67,000) innovation grant from the Innovation Fund Denmark, some of which will go to addressing this. 

It also has plans to start a research project with the prestigious Danish Technological Institute (DTU) with the aim of "optimizing the technical features of the juice", and will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in April or May this year. 

The current manufacturing capacity of several tonnes per month is “ample” for current demand, Price said, but the pair are planning to expand by 2018 with Holland, Sweden and Norway earmarked attractive export markets.

“Obviously our juice is in itself not going to end the overarching climate and food challenges," he added. "However, it is a gateway [product] for people in the Western hemisphere to learn to love and embrace edible insects as a natural part of their diet. Then we can really do something. It all starts with the individual consumer's mindset. We truly believe we can play a vital role in that regard.”

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