Newswise – NEW ORLEANS, March 17, 2024 – Insects are usually unwelcome visitors to a picnic, but they could be a tasty, nutritious and sustainable addition to the menu. Eating insects is common in some parts of the world and some species are even considered delicacies. An example is ants, which are sometimes used whole roasted as a snack or ground to add flavor and texture to dishes. Researchers are now reporting on the unique aroma profiles of four species of edible ants, which differ significantly in taste.

The researchers will present their results today at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Spring 2024 is a hybrid meeting taking place virtually and in-person March 17-21; It offers almost 12,000 lectures on various scientific topics.

“I became interested in ants because I once led a summer field study in Oaxaca, Mexico,” says Changqi Liu, associate professor of food science. “There, you can easily find various edible insects in the market, just like other food ingredients.”

To date, there have been only a few studies on the taste of edible insects. However, understanding flavor profiles could help the food industry formulate products with these readily available species. “If there are desirable flavors, scientists can explore ways to promote their formation, and if there are undesirable flavors, they can find ways to eliminate or mask those smells,” Liu says.

To better understand which compounds contribute to the taste of edible ants, Liu and his team at San Diego State University analyzed the odor profiles of four species: the chicatana ant, the black ant, the spiny ant and the weaver ant.

The researchers identified the volatile compounds present in samples of each species using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and matched them to odors detected using an olfactometer. They were puzzled by some volatile substances whose smell they could not detect; The team later discovered that the chemicals were ant pheromones. Even in high concentrations, humans cannot smell the alkanes that ants use as chemical messengers. But they were also able to identify other noticeable smells that contribute to the taste of these ant species.

The team found that common black ants have a sour and vinegary smell, largely due to their high levels of formic acid, a compound the ants secrete from their poison glands. The researchers also discovered the presence of large alkanes, which the ants use as alarm pheromones.

Unlike common black ants, the Chicatana ants tested contained no formic acid and their predominant odor was nutty, woody and greasy. The researchers attributed greasy, grassy smells to the presence of aldehydes. They say the nutty, toasty smell comes from pyrazines, compounds that are also produced when meat and bread are cooked. Chicatana ants use a type of pyrazine as a trace pheromone.

Weaver ants were characterized by a nutty, sweet and caramel-like aroma caused by the presence of various pyrazines and pyrroles. However, the researchers also noted hay- and urine-like aftertastes, which were likely due to high amine concentrations.

The team also analyzed the composition of ants at different stages of development. They compared adult spiny ants with the same species in the pupal stage. Like common black ants, the adult spiny ants also contained formic acid. In contrast, the pupa contained no formic acid because poison glands grow as it matures.

Next, Liu and his team hope to further study the flavor profiles of other ant species and developmental stages, such as ant eggs, which are considered a delicacy in some countries. So far, the team has only analyzed female chicatana ants, called queens, but they would like to compare the flavor profile with male ants or drones of the same species. The researchers also want to study how different processing affects the taste of these insects and conduct sensory evaluations using a human panel.

Edible insects can be a delicious alternative to animal proteins, but people with food allergies should be careful. Tropomyosin, a muscle protein, is a common allergen responsible for crustacean and shellfish allergies and is highly conserved among many invertebrate species. Therefore, people with sensitivity to crustaceans may experience similar reactions to insects. Even though the production of edible insects produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional livestock farming, prices are high because large-scale insect farming is still new. And in some countries, consumer acceptance poses a challenge for the food industry.

However, Liu believes that insects could be a great addition to the diet. “They can have very diverse and interesting flavor profiles. And that really expands the culinary possibilities of using these insects to make delicious food,” he says. Telling people about the nutritional and environmental benefits of edible insects increases people’s willingness to consume them, he adds. “But I don’t want people to feel like they are making a sacrifice by eating these insects. I want to show that they can actually taste very good while being nutritious and good for the environment.”

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Education Grants Program, and the USDA-NIFA (From Learning to Leading: Cultivating the Next Generation of) Funds San Diego State University’s Diverse Food and Agriculture Professionals (NEXTGEN) program and faculty-student mentoring program.

Visit the ACS Spring 2024 Program to learn more about this presentation “Exploring the Tastes of Edible Ants: A Path to Sustainable Gastronomy and Consumer Acceptance” and other scientific presentations.


The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress. ACS’s mission is to advance the entire chemical enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of the Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its diverse research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, e-books and weekly news magazines Chemistry and technology news. ACS journals are among the most cited, trusted, and widely read journals in the scientific literature; However, ACS itself does not conduct any chemical research. As a leading provider of scientific information solutions, the CAS division works with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’s main offices are in Washington, DC and Columbus, Ohio.

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Exploring the flavors of edible ants: A path to sustainable gastronomy and consumer acceptance

Edible insects are becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable solution to the increasing global demand for proteins due to their low environmental impact and high nutritional value. However, simply emphasizing the environmental and health benefits of eating insects may not be enough to encourage widespread adoption. Studying the flavor profiles of edible insects holds the potential to shift marketing strategies towards hedonistic campaigns that are more successful in increasing consumer acceptance and therefore insect consumption. Certain insects are already considered delicacies. For example, formicine ants are used as a sour flavoring agent in some cultures, and the leaf-cutting Chicatana ants are popular in Mexican cuisine. To explore the flavor profiles of these edible ants, the aroma compositions of common black ants (Lasius Niger) and Chicatana ants (Atta Mexicana) were analyzed using headspace solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-olfactometry-mass spectrometry (HS-SPME/GC-O-MS). Our study revealed different odor profiles for different ant species. Common black ants were characterized by a pungent, sour and vinegar-like smell, which was largely due to their high levels of formic acid, a secretion from their poison glands. In addition, numerous Dufour gland alkanes such as tridecane, undecane and pentadecane, which are known to act as alarm pheromones, have been detected in common black ants. In contrast, Chicatana ants exhibited nutty, toasty, woody, and fatty notes. Unlike common black ants, Chicatana ants did not contain formic acid. Instead, they had the alarm pheromone 4-methyl-3-heptanone and the trace pheromone 2,5-dimethylpyrazine. The fatty aroma of Chicatana ants was probably attributed to their abundant presence of aldehydes such as hexanal, octanal and nonanal. Understanding these flavor profiles is critical for the food industry to create appealing insect-based products that overcome psychological barriers such as: B. Disgust-based aversions associated with eating insects can be overcome.

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