Monthly Archives: October 2019

Entomophagy – it’s an Edible Insect Thing!

A few years ago, the Agrifood  Technology Station was approached by a grower of insects that were used to produce animal feed. In this case, the request was to assist with producing food for human consumption using the insect. And immediately upon writing this, I know that the Yuck! factor kicks in ….. that feeling of nausea related to eating something so alien to western diets!!! But stop, think, use your scientific mind and slowly convince yourself of the normalcy of this and the many benefits attached to it. The Conversation had published an interesting article in this regard. Read it to help you make up your mind.

The internet abounds with this new trend regarding consuming insects – just type “entomophagy” into your search engine to find out more about the benefits of adopting this new cuisine. But, back to the approach made to ATS: we started tinkering with the larvae produce by the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens), keeping mind that this fly is not like your ordinary house fly. Click here to learn more about BSF. One of the biggest growers of the fly operates internationally but has its home base in Cape Town viz. Agriprotein Technologies. Unfortunately, the original larvae we used was grown using organic waste i.e. not an acceptable process for eventual use in human food. Recently, cockroach milk has become flavor of the day. Imagine that!

However, notwithstanding this, some products were developed by ATS (but not consumed) just to prove the point that it was usable. The Yuck! factor was not tested:-) Keeping in mind that there are quite a few insect-based ingredients, in powder form, being produced internationally and already being consumed in South Africa, it is expected that this aversion to insects will slowly wane over time. What was an African and Asian food tradition is slowly chipping away at the bastions of western Yuckiness!

Having identified insects as a potential sustainable food source, the management of the ATS and Department of Food Science & Technology (DFST) embraced this as a key strategic research area since it falls under the World Health Organisation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 2 “Zero Hunger”.

During the initial product development phase, the intention was to produce an upmarket product in the first instance (a tofu) which could be aimed at the higher LSM market. This meant that, even though the idea is to produce insect-based products as a source of cheap but high quality protein and fats, it would not go down well by doing so and then introducing it to the lower LSM market. The idea was to ensure that the concept is first appreciated and adopted higher up the feeding chain (bad pun) before introducing it elsewhere in the market.

During this process ATS was approached by a start-up called Gourmet Grubb who have by now really disrupted this area of research in the country – have you seen them on TV with their gelato? Led by a Masters’ student in Food Science, ATS assisted with their product development with funding from the Technology Innovation Agency. In essence, the Station acted on behalf of and also together with the company by accepting larvae and taking it through a process to produce Entomilk which in turn was used to produce the gelato. TIA is now looking to put further funding into expanding the project scope.

Now, part of the function of ATS is to connect industry to the research capacity offered by academics at CPUT and, more specifically, in the Department of Food Science & Technology. And so it arose that, at this point, there are three such projects in progress at the moment. The personnel involved are Mr. Vusi Mshayisa (Lecturer and PhD candidate), Ms. Bongisiwe Zozo (ATS Intern and Masters’ candidate) and Mr. Vuyisani Bistoli (ATS Technician and Masters’ candidate). They were fortunate enough to attend the first African conference on insects held in Zimbabwe in August 2019. Ms. Zozo won the prize for best poster while the oral presentation and poster of the two gentlemen respectively were very well-received by the audience. You can imagine the excitement and the pride attached to this type of reception. The two Supervisors of Ms. Zozo (Profs. Wicht and Van Wyk) were very supportive of the process. ATS itself sponsored Ms. Zozo and Mr. Bistoli while DFST sponsored Mr. Mhsayisa.

Presently, DFST is building the concept of insects as a food ingredient into its curriculum as a further boost toward eating goggas in the future. This research field is ripe for the plucking.

Here’s to future engagement and collaboration on this topic. Already, with Ms. Zozo being registered in the Department of Chemistry, a collaboration has been constituted.

Larry Dolley

A Cultural Exchange with the Attaqua Community!

In the realm of Food Science & Technology, the primary field in which the Station operates, one often needs to work with different cultures, bacteria mostly, as was seen with the listeriosis outbreak in South Africa.

Fortunately, the exchange referred to above was a much more pleasant exercise. The Station was honored to host a delegation from the Attaqua Community from the Oudtshoorn area of the province. The substance of this gathering of minds is presented later in this blog. But let’s first understand or contextualize the term and grouping called the Attaqua. The Attaqua community is one of the Khoekhoe group which further includes the Inqua, Outeniqua, Hessequa, Namaqua, Chainoqua, Cocohoqua, Sonoqua and Griqua. Qua in Khoekhoe means people. Not being a historian or schooled in the history, I will leave this there for now in case I make misrepresentations. But I do insist that you read up on this rich history of the people referred to! There are numerous Google references for such and I will thus not foist my own favourites upon you.  I am myself related to the bigger grouping and have an interest in it from a personal point of view.

To business!! The Station hosts the Western Cape Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centre (IKSDC). This involves documenting and protecting indigenous knowledge of different types in different communities. For a complete description of this, see a recent blog here detailing the bigger project.

We have been busy working with the Attaqua community since early 2019. As part of this process, the Community Steering Committee of the Attaqua wished to visit the premises of ATS in order to build closer ties and also for both parties to explore how we could better assist each other in our respective endeavours.

Nine members of the Committee visited on the 2nd October 2019. It was a meeting/ visit of note for a number of different reasons. The agenda had three major points:

  1. Consideration of a draft Cooperation Agreement between CPUT and the Attaqua community. It must be noted that the Steering Committee itself is a delegated or representative body of the mother body which is the Khoi Cultural Heritage Development Council of South Africa (KCHDC-SA).
  2. A tour of the Food Science & Technology facility toward facilitating an understanding of the potential for further cooperation.
  3. A visit to the Technology Station in Clothing & Textiles, since the issue of indigenous knowledge related to textiles was considered relevant to the conversation.

The Attaqua delegation was led by Chief Poem Mooney who himself is Vice Chairperson of KCHDC-SA. He was accompanied by five Steering Committee members as well as three Recorders. Recorders are appointed community members who conduct the day to day interviewing and recording of potential indigenous knowledge holders. All such collected data is later verified and then loaded onto a national system which is protected and only accessible through a specific protocol. The latter protocol and overall management of the system is done under the newly-renamed Department of Science & Innovation (DSI) .

The meeting itself was a resounding success in my humble mind, albeit that this may be seen as a subjective statement. The outcomes of the meeting may be summarised as follows:

  1. The preamble to the meeting involved an extended introduction of role players. This bordered both on the technical aspects of the project but more so on the softer issues related to working with real mense! We were able to relate on a personal level in terms of who we are and why we are doing this project. Funnily enough, the overall conversation also touched on other points in terms of people we knew in common (strange how small the world is), and on things like ballroom dancing which was also a common link.
  2. The draft Cooperation Agreement was discussed and amendments suggested to the satisfaction of both parties but with the proviso that it is still open to further input once a document had been sent to the community and DSI. I personally, together with my legal colleague from the Technology Transfer Office (TTO), really appreciated the “cultural” aspects of the exchange and some of the indigenous knowledge shared during this conversation. The little bits of history around the Attaqua as a community was also very interesting.
  3. As expected, the tour of the Pilot Plant and labs elicited excited responses in terms of what could be achieved using CPUT as a vehicle for future work. This always gives us as staff a warm feeling and muted pride in what we had developed over the last 10 years.
  4. The visit to the TSCT further elicited more interest based on the fact that training could be offered to community members and/ or start-ups in different fields. Mr. Shamil Isaacs and his staff saw potential for further interaction and a decision was taken to explore this relationship further.

As an overall comment, potential projects had been identified outside of the primary IKSDC project and these will be explored further over the coming weeks. I certainly have an excited feeling about it and I know that our Attaqua colleagues left with the same sentiments as well.

Here’s to future engagement and collaboration.

Larry Dolley

Setting Up A Small Consultancy in the Food Industry

ATS recently had a poser put to it by a client in terms of sourcing a consultant to assist them with producing a specific sauce. Our usual go-to response is by using our database of consultants whom we know are active in the field. This time round we decided to use a different route as an experiment based on a brainwave!

My brain lamp

Why not use our graduate Facebook page and see what pops up? Why not join if you have not done so yet…Food Science and Technology graduates of South Africa. So, this was placed as a request for service providers to the graduates, and yes, we received a few (not a torrent) offers of assistance. However, the position was quickly filled, which is not necessarily the point of this story!

The actual point is that there are unemployed graduates out there. The reasons for being unemployed are varied: looking for a job, changed career, looking after a baby, disillusioned with working for a boss, etc. What this points to is that, even though a few persons responded, there must be a bigger number out there that are unemployed.

In a recent conversation with an employee of a consulting company, it turns out they are very busy trying to satisfy the needs of industry. This means they have more than enough work to keep themselves busy. So, what about trying to satisfy this need in specific fields of the industry?? Why can unemployed graduates not pool their skills and act as consultants in the field??

OK, so don’t get me wrong here! The graduates I refer to would have to be well-skilled or experienced and would have to have an inner drive to excel as an individual and, more importantly, as part of a team. For those that would want to make a quick buck …. this will not work for you since a team (or new consulting consortium) would have to break into the industry, prove itself over time and then start using the uptick in clientele to make a reasonable living.

In addition, for those of you with less experience, you still have oodles more knowledge than the average start-up or nano-enterprise in terms of technical issues (not necessarily business experience). Why not direct your skills to this sector? They usually require very basic assistance, something which could be used to add to your experience and build your confidence. If you apply this concept to home industries (of which there are many) and spaza-type enterprises, you could sit with quite a bit of work to do.

If you (or your group) is not confident enough, you could use the Agrifood Technology Station as your partner in terms of supplying initial services. Add to this the fact they the Station often gets work which it is too busy to handle. The cherry on the cake is that, if you need to do technical work such as product or process development, you would have relatively easy access to all our facilities.

At this point: a word of caution. You cannot supply sub-standard services since this will ruin your reputation or you could inadvertently affect the health of consumers.

So, the challenge is out there: come to ATS to see if we can assist you in setting up an enterprise. We cannot assist with the business registration and other business development issues, but we certainly can advise you how to go about some things based on our own experience with small companies and also individual consulting expertise.

Please also note that there is much more to this than can be added to this blog i.e. there is a bigger picture which shows more challenges but …… Try us. You may like us!

Larry Dolley