I had a first-hand experience of entomophagy (human consumption of insects) during a crash course on how to survive in the Australian Outback. I ate an ant. It wasn’t bad, really, tasted a little bit like vinaigrette.
I never gave much thought to eating insects after this trip, until a few weeks ago when I saw grasshoppers on the menu at Wahaca’s Southbank Experiment, directly sourced from Mexico where they are considered an invasive species (I went for the black bean tostadas instead).
Entomophagy has received a lot of press lately and insects are now seen as part of the solution to solve the issue of world hunger. A pretty big task ahead, considering their actual size.
While in the West the notion of eating insects makes most people squeamish, around 2 billion people in the world are already eating insects as part of their everyday diet.
And if you think you could never eat them, well think again as you probably already have. Insects are already present in our diet in food additives such as cochineal (E120) which is made from crushed red beetles and used as a colouring in drinks, cakes, jams, sweets, sausages, ice cream etc…
Shellac is obtained from the secretion of the female lac bug and used as a Glazing Agent to improve the shine of sweets as well as apples, pears and other fruits.
Nutritious, sustainable food
In March BBC Four aired a documentary “Can Eating Insects Save the World?” where presenter and food writer Stefan Gates travelled to Asia where eating insects is common. In Cambodia and Thailand insects are not only eaten as a delicacy but also in poorer regions eaten for survival. In some areas insects represent big business bringing profitable incomes to disadvantaged communities.
Gates explains that there are 1,900 edible species of insects. They represent an incredible food resource with 40 tons of insects available for every man on the planet.
Insects are high in protein, low in fat and are about 20 times more efficient than beef at producing body mass. Insects could be the ultimate sustainable food source as they reproduce a lot, are fast-growing (crickets only take 45 days from egg to fully adult size), require little water or food and produce low CO2 emissions.
In bugs infested areas, insects’ “hunters” play also a major role in pest control reducing the need for pesticides and insecticides.
Is eating insects the solution to curbing world hunger?
In the near future, we almost certainly will have to change our eating habits. The already strained current food production will need to almost double to feed the 9 billion world population estimated by 2050.
This week the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN presented the results of a study of the role of insects in fighting hunger and the world food crisis. The FAO points out that “globally, the most consumed insects are: beetles (31 percent); caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent). Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. Beef has an iron content of 6 mg per 100 g of dry weight, while the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20 mg per 100 g of dry weight, depending on the species and the kind of food they themselves consume.”
The report also argues that sustainable insect farming might provide a stable low-cost protein source and a steady income for poorer Asian countries.
The future of food is a serious problem and while insects are invaluable in preserving our ecosystems, their biggest contribution might just be helping the survival of the human species. But first, we need to overcome our prejudice towards bugs. Personally, after watching Gates’ documentary, I am curious about red ants and crickets.
Who knows, as a low-fat high protein food The Coleopteran Diet might be the next big thing? A good thing if you ask me, as long as the insects are sustainably sourced of course!
- Recipe: Sweet Potato Cricket Brownies [flexitarian]
- Recipe: Cricket Powder Protein Bites [flexitarian]
- Breed insects to improve human food security: UN report Guardian.co.uk
- U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try National Geographic
- Infographic: Entomophagy, the consumption of insects as food South China Morning Post