Insect-based protein is a distinct possibility for consumers looking to eat healthier, live longer and better, and support more sustainable food production. The milk protein crystals found inside cockroaches can serve as healthy protein supplements for humans, says a team of scientists from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) in Bangalore, India. The group recently unraveled the structure of milk protein crystal from the guts of a cockroach species called Diploptera punctata, the only known roach species to give birth to live young, the Times of India reports. The species lives along Asia’s Pacific rim.

Per the findings, a single milk crystal is highly caloric and contains more than three times the energy of the same amount of dairy milk. Prior to these findings, buffaloes were believed to produce milk protein with the highest calorie content. The finding comes at a time when debates rage over the environmental and health impacts of dairy and almond milk.

“The crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats and sugars,” Sanchari Banerjee, one of the main authors of the study, explained. “If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

The team now plans to use a yeast system to produce more crystals to possibly be used as protein supplements in the future.

What we think

22% of Americans say they’re eating protein more from sources other than meat, including 25% of Millennial and iGens

Consumers appear to be slowly embracing protein from sources other than meat, with a quarter of the youngest generations indicating they are getting protein more from sources other than meat. Health is the primary driver of meat alternative consumption in the US: over a third of consumers indicate that they would limit meat consumption for heart health, with just one in 10 would do so for animal welfare. While insect-based forms of protein have yet to enter the mainstream American diet, incorporating such proteins in beverage or supplement form could be a successful inroad to consumers’ stomachs. With dairy and almond milk facing increased criticism, consumers may turn to alternatives further outside their comfort zone, particularly one that promises a balance of proteins, fats and sugars.

Billy Roberts is a Senior Analyst, Food and Drink at Mintel, based in the Chicago office. Billy previously worked as Executive Editor covering consumer insights and new food and beverage trends with a leading trade publication.