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The Case for Adding Insects to the Menu

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Edible Insects as a Food Source

In China, edible wasp collecting and cooking techniques are documented in a book from the Tang Dynasty (618-907).  In Europe, Aristoteles (384-322BC) wrote about the best taste of a Cicada nymph and in the first half of the 20th century, chafer beetle soup (“Maikafersuppe”), the taste of which is described as comparable to that of lobster soup, was a highly appreciated dish in Germany and France. Today, approximately 1,900 edible insects species are being consumed worldwide, mainly in Africa, Mexico and Asia, for example the silk worm and cricket.

But also in Italy and Greece insects are on the menu in some typical local dishes, such as “casu marzu” from Sardinia, Italy. These examples show how the use of edible insects as sources for food is widespread, both in non-Western and Western cultures.

Most of us were never confronted with this source as a “food product” when we were young and therefore feel very different about edible crickets than about our daily shrimps, steaks and burgers. Nevertheless, over the past years the interest in insects as a food source has grown tremendously in the Western world. In the Netherlands, for instance, an insect cooking book has been available in shops since January 2008.

This trend is being reinforced by the recent re-evaluation of food patterns and habits, not only by consumers and the food industry but also by governments, due to the increasing trade and globalization of our food products and the depletion of our raw materials. Global meat consumption is growing and is expected to grow even more in the coming decades because of the increasing wealth in countries such as China. To meet these nutritional needs, larger quantities of protein rich feed for livestock will have to be produced. Due to the scarcity of these protein ingredients it is necessary to explore new sources. An alternative and sustainable protein source for food and feed can be found in insects and insect meal.

 

The case for edible insects as a sustainable new food source

Edible insects have been found to be one of the viable and sustainable resources which can play an important role in ensuring the reliable worldwide provision of food in the future.

Firstly, edible insects have been proven to convert feed more efficiently to body mass than conventional livestock. Since insects are cold-blooded not much energy is needed to maintain a constant body temperature during their growth process. Also, short life-cycles make the rearing of edible insects a process with quick, high yields.

Secondly, the Global Warming Potential of edible insects (eg: mealworms) per kg of edible protein is lower compared to pork, chicken and beef. Also, the production of edible insects for human protein requires much less land.

Edible insects as a healthy new food source

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In general, the nutritional value of most consumed edible insect species seems very promising. Protein values of edible insects are comparable to most meat products (Table 1).

In addition, the edible portion of insects is high since the whole insect can be consumed, while this does not hold for livestock and poultry of which certain parts of the animal (such as bones, skin and intestines) are not directly available for human consumption.

Insects have a fatty acid profile which is comparable to fish lipids, with high levels of polyunsaturated acid (PUFA). This means that insects may be regarded as healthy food. Although the health benefits of unsaturated fatty acids are desirable, it should be realized that these acids can also give rise to rapid oxidation.

Table 1. Macronutrient composition of two edible insects species compared with various common animal and fish tissues

Weight (%)

Mealworm

Cricket (adult)

Salmon

Pork

Chicken

Beef

Moisture

61.9

69.2

64

68-70

74

70-73

Protein

18.7

20.5

20-22

19-20

20-23

20-22

Fat

13.4

6.8

13-15

9-11

5

4-8

Ash

0.9

1.1

1.3

1.4

1

1

Processing methods

Insects can be processed in several way, such as the whole “recognizable” insect; or an “unrecognizable” meal or paste, or proteins could be extracted and applied in food products.  As the farming of edible insects and processing them into food products is a new industry, the processing practices should be evaluated thoroughly in order to create a safe and high quality product.

Edible insects are an exciting and promising food ingredient which opens up a new world and creates innovative challenges for all food scientists and chefs.

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One thought on “The Case for Adding Insects to the Menu

  1. Pingback: Eat Ento Expo: Introducing the West to Entomophagy (eating insects) | thefoodpornographersguide

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