Cornell Students Create Insect-Based Tofu

A team of Cornell students developed “C-fu” — a tofu substitute made from one hundred percent mealworm meat...

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Students try C-Fu — a tofu-like substance made out of mealworms — in Mann Lobby Thursday. (Connor Archard / Sun Sports Photography Editor)
Students try C-Fu — a tofu-like substance made out of mealworms — in Mann Lobby Thursday. (Connor Archard / Sun Sports Photography Editor)

By Melvin Li via the Cornell Daily Sun, 1/30/15

A team of Cornell students developed “C-fu” — a tofu substitute made from one hundred percent mealworm meat — and were recently selected as one of 10 finalists to compete for $10,000 in seed funding at the global Thought for Food Challenge.

According to Lee Cadesky grad, who leads the team behind C-fu, the product was chosen out of 336 other projects for the challenge and that his team will travel to Lisbon in two weeks to compete.

“C-fu is not a just a single product. It’s a versatile food ingredient that can be reprocessed into hundreds of different and new foods,” Cadesky said. “We want to change the paradigm surrounding insect foods from a dystopian imperative to gastronomic adventure.”

Cadesky said he first developed the idea for C-fu after studying a type of imitation crab meat known as “surimi.” According to Cadesky, the precursor to surimi was first developed as a way to process unwanted fish species into a desirable product.

“My thesis research has to do with cheesemaking and how milk proteins coagulate to form the gel network that makes cheese,” Cadesky said. “Similar principles apply to tofu and surimi, so I wanted to explore whether or not we could do the same things with insects.”

Over the course of six months, Cadesky’s team developed a method of extracting and restructuring the proteins of mealworms, crickets, superworms and waxworms.

Cadesky said the finished product was named “C-fu” by combining the Chinese word for “curd” with the letter C for “crickets,” which were the first insects the team experimented on.

“When we made it with crickets, it tasted awful,” Cadesky said. “We went to superworms for a while and they tasted even worse, and then we went to mealworms and they tasted okay.”

Eventually, the team moved to mealworms, an alternative that Cadesky said provided numerous health benefits.

According to Cadesky, the C-fu made from mealworms consisted of about 13 percent protein and 23 percent fat, with smaller amounts of iron. Cadesky also said that 75 percent of the fats are unsaturated, so C-fu is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Despite these benefits, C-fu requires enormous numbers of mealworms to be produced in large quantities. Cadesky estimated that 10,000 mealworms would only produce a pound to a pound and a half of C-fu at most.

According to Rachel Saputo grad — another member of the team — the mealworms were ordered live by the thousands from Rainbow Mealworms, a pet supply company based in Southern California.

At a public tasting of C-fu at Mann Library Thursday, hundreds of tiny brown cubes prepared the night before were placed onto plates for curious students and faculty members to try. Samplers were encouraged to fill out a brief form afterward to rate the taste of C-fu and answer a few food-related questions.

Cadesky said students at a previous tasting session last November repeatedly told him that insect meat didn’t taste like they thought it would. The mealworms reportedly tasted the best, so the team decided to prepare only mealworms for this session.

Despite its current incarnation, Cadesky said his vision for C-fu extends beyond mealworms.

“The even more exciting potential for C-fu is to discover what the world of insects tastes like,” Cadesky said. “We’ve only experimented with four insect species, but there are 1,900 edible ones. What do they all taste like?”

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