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Sep 25, 2013 07:37 AM EDT

McGill's MBA Students Win Prestigious 2013 Hult Prize; Create Insect Flour Rich in Proteins and Iron

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In an attempt to provide nutritious food to malnourished communities in urban slums around the world, a group of five McGill University MBA students created insect-infused flour that eventually helped them win the 2013 Hult Prize competition for social good, Sept. 23.

Five students from the Desautels Faculty of Management, Mohammed Ashour, Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson and Gabe Mott, were awarded the social entrepreneurship award along with $1 million in seed capital by former U.S. president Bill Clinton in New York City at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting.

"We are farming insects and we're grinding them into a fine powder and then we're mixing it with locally appropriate flour to create what we call power flour," Ashour said. "It is essentially flour that is fortified with protein and iron obtained from locally appropriate insects."

The team, 'Aspire Food Group' said that nutrients such as protein and iron are hardly present in the diets of people living in slums of developing nations. However, the valuable nutrients are abundantly found in insects and can be replaced with other expensive sources. For example, crickets are rich in proteins when compared to beef.

Soor said that people in most of the countries have already begun targeting the insects. "There really isn't a 'yuck' factor," Soor said. However, insects vary depending upon the local culinary preferences. "For example, in Mexico, we'd go with the grasshopper. In Ghana, we'd go with the palm weevil," Soor said. The insects is mixed with the local flour, made from either corn, cassava, wheat or something else.

To test the efficiency of the flour, the team conducted local trials and taste tests in some markets. In one test, they offered people tortillas made from regular corn flour and corn flour containing 10 per cent cricket flour. In the other experiment, corn flour containing 30 per cent cricket flour were tested.

 "Amazingly enough, we got raving reviews for the latter two... so it turns out that people either find it to be tasting neutral or even better than products that are made with traditional corn flour," Ashour said.

Every year, the Hult Prize Foundation conducts an annual competition for teams of four or five students from colleges and universities to develop ideas and strategies to tackle social or environmental problems. For 2013, the students were asked to present ideas to tackle world hunger, a challenge selected by Clinton himself.

"This is our chance to empower the next generation and solve some of the world's most pressing issues," said Ahmad Ashkar, Founder and CEO of the Hult Prize, said. "Almost a billion people go hungry every day and without new solutions, food security issues are likely to get worse."

The McGill team was one of six teams that reached the final stage who pitched their idea Monday to judges that included Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and Erathrin Cousin, CEO of the World Food Program.

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