UNAM students create “alternative” meat with grasshoppers

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Students from the UNAM faculties of Economics, Accounting, Administration, and Sciences, created the project called Chapi.

To adapt the food model according to the future needs of humanity, UNAM students started a company that produces alternative foods to meat, made from grasshoppers.

Alfredo Díaz Cano, Raymundo Lozano Retiz, and José Eduardo Cedillo García, from the faculties of Economics, Accounting and Administration, and Sciences, respectively, launched the project known as Chapi (from the word “Chapulines”, with products based on vegetable protein and grasshoppers, “a safe, nutritious and economic option”, affirmed Lozano Retiz.

Burger and sausage medallions made with grasshoppers are the star dishes of Chapi, a company created this year by three students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Chapi substitutes meat with “Chapulines” – a grasshopper endemic to Mexico – a food rich in protein. The FAO recognized that eating insects could end hunger in the world. According to a report, many species have as much protein as meat, and since they are cheap to produce, the body encourages their consumption by both humans and animals. 

“Grasshopper is very nutritious, each gram provides 70% protein. Our medallion has 23% protein, more than an average steak, ”says Alfredo Díaz Cano (21 years old), an economics student and one of the creators of the project. The other two are Raymundo Lozano Retiz (23 years old), from accounting and administration, and José Eduardo Cedillo García (20 years old), from physics.

It all started with the Hultz Prize competition, an entrepreneurship program that operates on more than 1,500 university campuses in 121 countries. It was there that the three met and faced the challenge of creating an insect-based product. For this invention, the Mexican students came in third place. As part of the program, they planned a trip to Colombia to present their initiative but the pandemic canceled their plans.

A sustainable alternative

The meat substitutes are made by hand. University students first created the croquichapi , a medallion of grasshoppers mixed with lentils, which resembles a hamburger. A month ago they developed a sausage made with tofu. Both options are accompanied by stews of cabbage, chard or huitlacoche (a fungus that grows from corn).

Young people try to adapt to the income of their buyers. Each hamburger costs 85 Mexican pesos (3.25 euros) or two for 150 (5.64 euros), but at the university they have promotions of one for 60 pesos (2.26 euros).

Likewise, the students seek to achieve a “totally sustainable business model, to help the producers themselves,” says Lozano. For now, their grasshopper supplier is in the state of Oaxaca (in the south of the country) but they hope to set up their own hatchery, for which they have had the support of researchers and entomologists from UNAM, says Díaz.

“We plan to build a farm in Chimalhuacán (state of Mexico),” says Cedillo. “It requires little space,” he adds. One cubic meter is enough to grow five to ten kilograms of grasshoppers, according to him. 

chapi chapulines
(From left to right) Raymundo Lozano, Alfredo Díaz Cano and José Eduardo Cedillo.

First they began to sell in the Benito market, in the Benito Juárez mayor’s office, an affluent area, and in other bazaars in the capital. When they saw that the product was selling well, they began to fill orders via social networks and on an online sales platform called Canastarosa .

So far they have not received any kind of financial support. “We finance everything with our profits,” they say. But they are applying to three incubators to be able to scale the project.

“We are interested in benefiting the environment. The meat industry is one of the main causes of the greenhouse effect, while grasshopper farming is 14 times less polluting, uses less land, water and emits less carbon dioxide ”, emphasizes Cedillo.

An old production

Grasshoppers are eaten in all the central and southeastern states of the country. In general, in Mexico, eating insects is a custom that dates back to pre-Hispanic times ; some of the earliest historical records come from the Mexica culture. For several years, scientists have been interested in studying the subject, and so far about 400 edible insects have been identified in the country.

The milpa grasshopper ( Sphenarium purpurascens ) is also one of the most devastating pests. Every year, for example, in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley, between 40,000 and 50,000 hectares of corn, alfalfa and bean crops are infested by S. purpurascens, according to scientists from UNAM.

According to this same study, S. purpurascens is a high-quality protein food that could help reduce child malnutrition in the country. It contains 53.17% protein, 4.13% fat, 2.31% carbohydrates and 19.5% fiber. A kilo of corn grasshopper can even contain twice as much protein as a kilo of conventional meat (beef, pork and chicken). Compared to that of tuna or other fish, its protein value is similar. It is also rich in minerals and vitamins, and is lower in fat than lean meat. Its exoskeleton, made up of chitin, functions as a fiber and is beneficial for the human microbiota.

Source: canastarosa.com/stores/chapi

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