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Bugs for breakfast: Could this be the Olympic food of the future?

Track stars such as Dina Asher-Smith and Adam Gemili are famed for devouring nutrient dense high-carb breakfasts to kick start their days, but these meals are far from environmentally friendly and have hefty carbon footprints. 

So, to mark the Tokyo Olympics and with less than 100 days to go to COP26, the upcoming climate change conference in Glasgow later this year, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) has teamed up with leading nutritionist Rob Hobson to create environmentally friendly takes on traditional breakfast foods fit for Olympic sprinters.

‘The Breakfast of Champions’ is an alternative morning feast centred around Britain’s most underappreciated nutrient-rich food group… insects. A vision for the future, it contains all the minerals and nutrients elite level sprinters need for their lung-busting morning work outs.

This is much more than a re-packaged Bushtucker Trial. The bugs are combined with traditional breakfast foods such as bread, berries and oats, many grown and or produced using next generation cultivation techniques that produce little or no carbon emissions.

Created for UKRI by nutritionist Rob Hobson, author of the Detox Kitchen Bible Cookbook and The Cheats and Eats Lifestyle Programme, the bug-based menu card comprises a Cooked Cricket Breakfast (20.8% Carbs, 13.4% Protein, 65.9% Fat), a Fruit, Oat and Cricket Breakfast Smoothie (55.3% Carbs, 14.3% Protein, 30.4% Fat) and Mealworm Granola with Oat Yoghurt (38% Carbs, 6.2% Protein, 55.9% Fat)*.

Rob Hobson said: “As a sprinter it’s important to start the day with a good breakfast to fuel your training or competition event. All these breakfast options contain a good source of carbohydrate to maintain energy levels and preserve precious glycogen stores in the muscles. Each dish also contains healthy fats and some protein which is sustainably sourced from edible insects such as crickets and grubs.

“These dishes can also be eaten as small meals during the day- their protein content will help to support muscle recovery and growth while the carbohydrate restores glycogen levels in the muscle. Bugs also offer a source of minerals such as calcium which is important for bones and also iron, which many female athletes can struggle getting sufficient levels of in their diet.”

Currently, the global food system contributes to a third of greenhouse gas emissions. UKRI is charged with putting research and innovation at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to tackle climate change.  One way to help is by highlighting small, everyday changes we can all make.

Grub granola

Over many years UKRI has provided funding to research bodies and institutions across the country, such as Jghc Limited and InFarm. The former has increased the storage life of asparagus, used in The Breakfast of Champions, which will in turn reduce the import from overseas and carbon emissions, while the latter is a pioneer in vertical farming where crops like peas, beans, tomatoes, strawberries, chillies and carrots are grown indoors in stacked trays under controlled environments. It’s technology like this that can allow ingredients in The Breakfast of Champions to be grown.

Dr Riaz Bhunnoo, Director of the Global Food Security programme at UKRI said: “We all need to play our part in the fight against climate change and make changes in our everyday lives to help meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. Food is a big part of that. The Breakfast of Champions shows how some of the incredible innovations in carbon free food manufacturing and production in the UK can be used as alternatives to traditional breakfast food, packed full of all the nutrients our bodies need. That it’s suitable for an Olympic sprinter just goes to show what’s possible when we think outside the box.”

Fruit, Oat and Cricket Breakfast Smoothie

Cooked Cricket Breakfast (serves two)

Perfectly ripe smashed avocado on toasted rye bread topped with plump asparagus tips and a generous helping of whole crispy fried crickets. Garnished with dried chilli flakes, a squeeze of lime and finished with a drizzle of olive oil and pinch of salt, the Cooked Cricket Breakfast – or ‘Fly Up’ – is a healthy, tastier-than-you-might-think alternative to the full English. 

Ingredients: x2 avocados (stoned and flesh removed), x2 asparagus tips, 2 tbsp whole crispy crickets, 1 lime (juiced), x2 slices of rye bread (toasted), 1 tbsp olive oil, dried chilli flakes, salt.

Method:

Lightly blanch the asparagus spears in boiling water for 1-2 minutes depending on the size. They must retain a good crunch. Drain the asparagus and slice thinly

Place the avocado flesh in a bowl with the lime juice and mash with a fork then season with salt to taste

Place the toasted rye bread on a plate and drizzle with a little olive oil. Divide the avocado between two and spread over each slice of toasted rye bread

Top the avocado with asparagus slices, crickets and chilli flakes.

Fruit, Oat and Cricket Breakfast Smoothie (serves two)

This refreshingly fruity smoothie is high in cricket protein to help keep you feeling full and energized. This healthy, easy and quick 5 ingredient recipe is flavourful and the perfect kick start to your day.

Ingredients: 150g plain oat yoghurt, 1 banana, 20g seasonal berries, 20g cricket powder, 1tbsp oats.

Method:

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth.

Mealworm Granola with Oat Yoghurt (serves two)

This energy-boosting granola breakfast is the perfect start to your day. Unlike your traditional breakfast granola, this meal swaps dairy yoghurt for oat yoghurt which is the most environmentally friendly in terms of emissions. The added mealworms supplement the protein lost from this swap, giving you all necessary nutrients in just one meal.   

Ingredients: 40g dried mealworms, 20g jumbo oats, 35g pumpkin seeds, 30g coconut flakes, 30g dried cranberries, 30g raisins, 2 tbsp honey, 1 ½ tsp coconut oil, 600g plain oat yoghurt.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas mark 5

Place all the ingredients into a bowl and stir until everything is well combine dand covered evenly in honey and coconut oil

Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet lined with baking paper

Place the baking sheet on the middle shelf in the oven and cook for 10 minutes until evenly browned

Remove the granola from the oven and leave to cool before serving yoghurt on top. You could also add some seasonal fruit.

The Breakfast of Champions has adapted vertical farming from innovators Infarm, where crops like peas, beans, tomatoes, strawberries, chillies and carrots are grown indoors in stacked trays under controlled environments. These systems can be tailored for year-round growth and use significantly less water and energy than traditional farming.

The vertical farms can be located in both rural and urban environments to ensure the produce is as close to the consumer as possible, reducing food miles and therefore contributing to net zero emissions targets.

The recipes have also taken inspiration from Bug Farms Foods, who have developed a meat alternative product made from insect and vegetable protein. Insects require 12-25 times less feed compared to cattle, and 50% less than chickens, to produce the equivalent amount of protein. It takes about 22,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of intensively farmed beef, whereas it takes just 1-10 litres of water to produce 1 kg high-welfare edible insect protein.

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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