Researchers at UC Davis are trying to find ways to feed hens a more natural diet without affecting the taste of their eggs.
Organic egg producers are currently allowed to add a synthetic protein to their chicken feed to make sure hens get all their nutrients.
Maurice Pitesky is a poultry specialist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He says the USDA may stop allowing the supplement, called methionine. So, his group of researchers is trying an alternative protein source: black soldier fly larvae.
“This might be a way to move away from that synthetic methionine and try something that the chickens naturally have an inclination to eat,” Pitesky said.
The hens really like having bugs in their feed, he said. But the question remains: how do their eggs taste?
Students at on-campus cafe were given samples of eggs from hens that had eaten various amounts of fly larvae to see if it affected the taste. They had mixed responses, with some saying there was a difference in flavor and texture, while others said the hard-boiled samples "just taste like egg."
Another natural protein booster that egg farmers have tried is fish meal. But it can give the eggs a fishy taste, Pitesky said.
The final results of the taste test will be published and next up will be a test to see if chickens’ meat tastes different when they eat larvae.
The FDA would need to change its rules to allow insects in chicken feed, he said.
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