Biteback: Is the future of cooking oil made from insects?

Thought for Food (TFF) is a community and platform that empowers and supports young food innovators across the globe. The big challenge being “How to sustainably feed 10 billion people?”

The TFF community has over 15,000 young leaders in 140 + countries and we are really excited to join this network of food citizens. 

We thought the best way that we could tell you about TFF and talk about their engagement was through one of their innovators, global ambassadors and next-gen council member Mush’ab Nursantio, whose start-up Biteback is shaping the future of edible oil consumption and production in Asia. 

Biteback is an insect bio-refinery company aiming to meet the increasing global demand for palm oil by creating a healthier and more sustainable alternative.

We caught up with Mush’ab over a call to chat with him about Biteback, the TFF experience and what he believes is the future of food.

Mush’ab is the co-founder and CEO of BiteBack, an insect bio-refinery company aiming to meet the increasing global demand for palm oil by creating a healthier and more sustainable alternative.

Edible Issues (EI): Hi Mush’ab, your work with creating an edible oil alternative is very interesting. Over the last year at the Food Innovation Program (Food Shapers: Future of Proteins) we explored much about alternative insects as a direct food source. It was really interesting to hear about you looking into oils and fats production. Tell us how it all began? 

Mush’ab Nursantio (MN): When we started this initially we didn’t plan to start a company. It was a project in our final year and we were doing research about sustainability. We started with a looking into insects as a sustainable protein source, and soon we discovered the potential of the fats that we could extract. 

Biteback has developed a processing technology that allows us to extract more than 90% of fats of insect body mass and refining them into various functional ingredients like cooking oil, butter, fatty alcohol, and biofuel. 

image courtesy: Biteback

Taking a closer look, we saw that these very wide varieties of rich fatty acids offer a combination of rich in unsaturated fats and healthy fats including omega-3, 6, and 9. We also realized that the insects reproduce so rapidly that they yield 40 times more than palm oil on the same land area. 

The thing with growing insects is that they don’t require fertile land. They can be grown indoors. At the same time, they can be fed using biomass. At this time we are using rice husks, wheat husks and sugarcane bagasse.

This makes alternative oil production more efficient and sustainable. We decided to bring these pieces together and we got selected as a finalist and runner up at the TFF summit in 2016.

So what’s the real problem with palm oil?

EI: BiteBack has the potential to produce 40x more oil on the same land size as the oil palms. What could this mean for the palm oil industry?

MN: We are never looking to be a replacement to palm oil. In the current edible oils’ market palm oil still remains the most efficient of edible oils produced. Its efficiency makes it cheap and accessible.

What we are looking at is the increasing global population and hence the increasing demand for palm oil. We want to offer an alternative in the market that is significant enough for the consumer or industry to make a shift in their consumption.

The thing with fats and oils is that they are used everywhere, in all FMCG products. And we have the potential to diversify our oil consumption. If we don’t offer any alternatives then people have no choice but to continue using palm oil and that’s not good for the environment. 

EI: Over the last few years we’ve seen a few large food companies banning palm oil. We are also seeing palm oil consumption declining in Europe. Isn’t this a positive signal?

Yes, it’s good for some period of time but now companies that are banning palm oil tend to move towards canola oil. 

This is not a solution because by just using another kind of oil we are creating the same problems in agriculture. Canola also requires even more land. This means more deforestation. 

It is a short term solution but for the future, we really need to look into sustainable alternatives. 

EI: How would you say Thought For Food (TFF) has shaped your journey?

MN: TFF was really a life-changing experience. Especially for us young people with no professional experience in a specific industry. 

TFF gave us business and knowledge and access to capital other talents and professional working in food that could help us on our journey. It’s a great platform but depends on the entrepreneur itself. You need to decide who you are and what your goals are and understand what TFF gives you from their extensive network and community. 

This community helps us spread the word about our work, that really helps as we continue to grow. 

Team Biteback with Christine Gould. Founder & CEO of Thought For Food (TFF) as they win runners up at the TFF summit in 2016

I started off in 2016 as a finalist at the summit and then came back the next year as an ambassador, and the next year as a next-gen council member. I was given a space to share my experience and help other entrepreneurs and innovators like myself.

It’s not just about TFF’s influence through its network, but through the program’s events and activities helps me develop personal skills. 

TFF has a great network so it’s a great place of learning and professional development. It’s a great way to also share what you are doing in your own region. 

EI: Do you have any advice for the new set of ambassadors of 2019-20? 

MN: Connect! Connect with your own community. Reach out to everyone, your university, professional network and even your government. The most important thing is to embrace the whole idea of what your community is at present and strengthen it by coming up with your own solutions and get more people concerned about the issues and the challenges. 

TFF has a great network so it’s a great place of learning and professional development. It’s a great way to also share what you are doing in your own region. 

EI: What is one thing that you envision for a better future of food? 

MN: I think the idea of a sustainable future of food is biodiversity. Right now we only have only a few animals and plants that we consume. But if we were to diversify our consumption we would put less stress on the environment. 

Biteback founders Mush’ab Nursantio and Ifdhol Syawkoni

Learn more about Thought For Food on and keep update with Mush’ab and his work at Biteback on