“Tastes like chicken!” You might think it’s funny or have a gag reflex but, in all actuality, insects on the menu may be closer to reality than you may think. Entomophagy, or human consumption of insects for food is widespread. People all over the world have been eating insects (eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults) since prehistoric times and, in many places, continue to eat them to this day.
This post is about insects as food, about their environmentally friendly and sustainable production, and the potential uses of insects for feeding the masses and even sustaining our first Mars colony! Insects are fascinating and we can eat them too!
The majority of the world, about 80% (approximately 113 countries), practice entomophagy (MacEvilly, 2000) including, but not limited to Central and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Papua New Guinea (Rumpold & Schlüter, 2013). Throughout these countries, more than 2,000 different insect species are consumed (Jongema, 2012), the most popular being beetles, crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, and beetle grubs. Personally, I’ve tried grasshoppers (sautéed with herbs and spices) and mealworms… both were delicious! In rural China families eat insects as a regular staple, but there are also restaurants that serve up insects as pricey delicacies for you to “bug out” on.
It’s only in the western world that we turn our noses up to an insect menu. However, this affliction may be morphing into the newest food fad! Could insects be the new Sushi!? In the 1980′s nobody was eating raw fish, but now just about everyone does. Similarly, pretty soon, everyone could be eating insects with the introduction of insect flour. Insect flour is made from ground up insects (mainly crickets) and used as ingredient in, for example, protein bars and baked goods. Interested in buying some? All Things Bugs is a US company that manufactures and sells whole cricket powder. Insects are the new food trend and they appear to be making good progress because of the many restaurants popping up in the US (48), Canada (3) and Europe (8) that serve up a smorgasbord of insects. To keep up with the demand, the US recently opened it’s first insect farm!
Insects are highly nutritious (full of vitamins and minerals), low in fat and high in protein (Holland 2013). The protein content of some insects is on par with beef, chicken, and pork but are jam packed with more essential vitamins and minerals. You can see the nutritional value of a variety insects compared to beef and fish at Girl Meets Bug. Of the insects, beetles are the most protein rich (Predacious diving, Long-horned, June, and Dung). Butterfly and moth pupa are also high in protein but have high concentrations iron; great for children and pregnant women! Red Ants have more protein than an egg and provide large amounts of both calcium and iron. I don’t know how most of these insects taste but one of my Chinese exchange students described cicadas as crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle!
In addition to being highly nutritions, insects are also an environmentally sustainable food and have the potential to reduce global warming (Premalatha et al., 2011). Insects require a lot less energy and water to convert food into protein than animal livestock, thereby emitting a great deal less greenhouse gas. To put this in perspective, a UN report warns that worlds livestock as a whole is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all automobiles and transportation combined! Once we break the stigma associated with eating insects we could eliminate world hunger AND reduce pollution caused from meat production.
On a lighter note, food supply is one of the problems that needs to be solved for future space travel, i.e. Mars One (Yokota et al., 2006) and entomophagy is a promising solution. Research in space based farming focuses on sustainability (generating food, as well as the decomposition and recycling of waste products) as well as high quality food (Alling et al., 2005; Katayama et al., 2008). Insects would compliment plant agriculture by consuming parts of plants that are uneatable for humans, breaking down and recycling the parts of the vegetables humans can’t eat, and later be consumed by humans or feed to animal livestock. Katayama (2008) suggested that a model diet that would meet humans nutritional needs for space exploration should consist of rice, soybean, sweet potato, green–yellow vegetable, silkworm pupa, and loach fish.
I mean, is a McCricket Sandwich made from cricket powder really that far fetched? Up until 2011 we’ve been eating pink slime (contents of McNuggets), or food additives like L-cysteine (in bread and baked goods to increase shelf life) made from human hair and castoreum (flavouring in ice cream, cookies, and cakes) excreted from a beaver’s butt… just to name a few. Insect flour doesn’t seem so bad at all in comparison. So, no, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that we could all be incorporating insects into our diet very soon, and saving the world while we’re doing it.
Should We All Be Eating Insects?:
Alling A., Van Thillo, M., Dempster, W., Nelson, M., Silverstone, S., Allen, J. Lessons learned from biosphere 2 and laboratory biosphere closed systems experiments for the Mars On Earth, project. Biol. Sci. Space 19, 250–260, 2005.
Holland, J. 2013. U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try. National Geographic. Retrieved on July 16, 2014.
Jongema, Y. 2012. List of edible insects of the world (April 4, 2012). http://www.ent.wur.nl/UK/Edible+insects/Worldwide+species+list.
Katayama N., Ishikawa Y, Takaoki M, Yamashita M, Nakayama S, Kiguchi K, Kok R, Wada H, Mitsuhashi J. 2008. Entomophagy: A key to space agriculture. Advances in Space Research. 41: 701-705.
MacEvilly, C. 2000. Bugs in the system. Nutrition Bulletin, 25: 267-268.
Premalatha M., Abbasi T., Abbasi T., and Abbasi SA. 2011. Energy-efficient food production to reduce global warming and ecodegradation: The use of edible insects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15: 4357–4360
Rumpold, BA and Schlüter, OK. 2013. Potential and challenges of insects as an innovative source for food and feed production. Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies, 17: 1-11.
Yokota H., Ishikawa Y., Yamashita M., and Oshima T. 2006. Space Agriculture Task Force Space agriculture on Mars using hyper-thermophilic aerobic bacteria. Habitation 10: 191.
I wrote this post while supervising Tavi and his playmates. They all (with the exception of a few that ran away at the suggestion) wanted to try the Larvets… including Rex!