This is C-fu, a new type of sustainable protein made from 100% mealworms
This is C-fu, a new type of sustainable protein made from 100% mealwormsRobert Barker/University Photography, Cornell University

A group of students from Cornell University in the US are trying to revolutionise sustainable food by inventing a tofu made from mealworms that could help to feed the world's booming population, expected to hit nine billion people by 2050.

C-fu is a protein product is made from 100% crushed mealworms and contains 13% protein, 23% fat, iron, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

At least 75% of the total fats are unsaturated and the product can be fried, boiled, baked, dipped, grilled, fermented, salted or dried. The team says C-fu can be processed into crepes, noodles and even cream cheese.

Pieces of C-fu on a plate at a tasting session. The product can be fried, boiled, baked, dipped, grilled, fermented, salted or dried
Pieces of C-fu on a plate at a tasting session. The product can be fried, boiled, baked, dipped, grilled, fermented, salted or driedRobert Barker/University Photography, Cornell University

Other students at Cornell who have tasted samples of C-fu have described it as having a "nutty", "bready" and "eggy" taste and texture.

In fact, the students' creation has been so well-received the team have been picked as one of 10 finalists out of 350 universities in the world to compete in the Thought for Food Global Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on 14 February.

"C-fu can do a lot of things because it's not just a single product. It's a raw material that can be the platform for a whole new array of insect-sourced foods," said Lee Cadesky, a food science graduate student who led the team.

"It's analogous to fresh cheese or tofu, which can be modified or reprocessed into hundreds or even thousands of very different foods."

Cadesky came up with the idea for C-Fu after studying a type of imitation crab meat known as surimi.

"My thesis research has to do with cheese making and how milk proteins coagulate to form the gel network that makes cheese," Cadesky told local newspaper Cornell Daily Sun.

"Similar principles apply to tofu and surimi, so I wanted to explore whether or not we could do the same things with insects."

C-fu can even be used as a substitute for ground beef
C-fu can even be used as a substitute for ground beefRobert Barker/University Photography, Cornell University

Over the course of six months, the team developed a method of extracting and restructuring the proteins from mealworms, crickets, superworms and waxworms but only tofu made from mealworms tasted edible.

The grand prize of the competition is $10,000 (£6,536) in seed funding and Cadesky hopes to expand his vision way beyond mealworms to other insects.

"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?"