The immediate reaction to seeing someone consume a insect, whether alive or dead, is to cringe, grimace, turn away or do something of a similar nature. That’s the situation at present, but things could soon be about to change.
Eating an insect might not sound like the most pleasant of experiences. Many people have only tasted a caterpillar, grasshopper or similar for the sake of embracing a different culture while holiday. Still, the facts don’t lie.
A report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation highlights that over two billion people around the world already supplement their diet with insects. It states that eating bugs could help fight world hunger thanks to the population of some species as well as their high growth and feed conversion rates.
The report notes that “consumer disgust” is holding off the trend of insect eating in many Western countries, but perhaps more people from the likes of Britain and the US would be willing to consider this a reality after hearing a thorough rundown of the facts.
As the UN report found, insects are highly nutritious, with high protein, fat and mineral content making them a valuable supplement for undernourished children.
The caterpillar, for example, is packed with goodness that may be going hidden behind its hairy exterior. They contain 28.2g of protein per 100g and an impressive 35.5mg of iron to boot.
Grasshoppers are also highly nutritious, with 20.6g of protein and 35.2mg of calcium per 100g, while the dung beetle boasts 17.2g of protein and 7.7mg of iron per 100g.
Compare these readings with the 27.4g of protein and 3.5mg of iron found in 100g of minced beef and it seems the UN has a decent enough case for the inclusion of insects in human diets.
Food manufacturers are constantly being urged to support the environment as well as the sustainability of their sector in general. Research conducted on insects shows that most types produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouses gases than other livestock, with cattle often used as a comparison.
In addition to this, the unavoidable ammonia emissions linked to insect-rearing are lower than those associated with conventional livestock. So not only are insects good for people, their low environmental footprint means they’re great for the environment too.
In an industry where cleanliness and product appearance remains paramount, the food industry has every right to be slightly taken aback by the idea of insects worming their way into lunch menus and snack packets. However, some companies are likely to warm to the idea of insects for food better than others.
Most foods require packaging to some extent, and the latest snack on the block is no different. Insects are packaged by various methods, with techniques like flow wrapping helping snacks like crickets make their way onto store shelves.
More insects coming into the market will only increase the adoption of mass-production technologies such as vertical wrappers, while the demand for products could increase innovation in a range of fields.
As for food manufacturers themselves, the increased uptake of insects for eating could create a whole world of opportunities. They’ve been advised to start preparing potential flavours right away.
Products for the future
It’s harder to miss a food vendor in Thailand selling insects than it is to find one, but these ‘products’ are now spilling out of the streets and into the stores – ready for backpackers to satisfy their cravings upon their return home.
BBQ flavour worm ‘crisps’ and Thai green curry crickets are just two of the many insect snacks available to consumers. Seasoned witchetty grubs are hugely popular in Australia, while agave worms accompany tortilla dishes as well as tequila in Mexico. The nutritional value of these insects makes them perfect for accompanying meals and, if they pass the taste test, there’s every chance they could spread across to other markets.
Perhaps in ten years time TV food critics will be commenting on the texture of a BBQ worm without a shred of sarcasm. Trade shows like the multi-award winning Lunch could be inviting insect-based creations into their various competitions, with a wasp, lemon and lime mix stealing the top prize in the British Smoothie Championships.
For now this remains a humorous situation; one resigned to the imagination rather than the history books. What Westerners need is encouragement from the most critical point – the manufacturers themselves. Only then will they realise that creepy crawlies aren’t so creepy after all.