It’s crunch time for crickets: Is there a sea change for insects?

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13 Nov 2017 --- As the world’s population continues to bulge, the issue of food security is a hot topic in the food industry, particularly how best to meet the challenges of providing protein – that’s where insects come in. Eating them is nothing new for the East, but in Western cultures, tucking into creepy crawlies is riddled with challenges, despite their indisputable protein and nutritional credentials, and there are many questions when it comes to industry turning to insects to address the protein shortfall.

Despite the fact that feelings often run high where insects are concerned – many people are even squeamish to look at them, let alone touch or swallow them. And yet they present a huge nutritional opportunity as an increasing global population seeks sustainable sources of food and feed.

Insects have generally high levels of animal protein and key micronutrients with lower environmental footprints than traditional alternatives, and they can be raised on leftovers. But cultural, social and economic hurdles remain, reports a review paper that has just been published in Nutrition Bulletin.

“Insects present a nutritional opportunity, but it is unclear how their nutritional quality is influenced by what they are fed,” says Darja Dobermann, a doctoral researcher in entomophagy at the University of Nottingham and Rothamsted Research.

“In ideal conditions, insects have a smaller environmental impact than more traditional Western forms of animal protein; less known is how to scale up insect production while maintaining these environmental benefits,” she notes.

“Studies overall show that insects could make valuable economic and nutritional contributions to the food or feed systems, but there are no clear regulations in place to bring insects into such supply systems without them turning into a more expensive version of poultry for food or soya for feed,” says Dobermann.

The review highlights how insects have been a source of food for hundreds of years in more than 100 countries with over 2000 edible species; in central Africa, up to 50 percent of dietary protein has come from insects, with their market value higher than many alternative sources of animal protein.

Insects need to be large enough to make the effort of catching them worthwhile and easy to locate, preferably in predictably large quantities. They are consumed at various life stages, as raw, fried, boiled, roasted or ground food.

Popular species for consumption include beetles (Coleoptera, 31 percent); caterpillars (Lepidoptera, 18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera, 14 percent); grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (Orthoptera, 13 percent); cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (Hemiptera, 10 percent); termites (Isoptera, 3 percent); dragonflies (Odonata, 3 percent); and flies (Diptera, 2 percent).

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provides strategic funding for Rothamsted Research.

“Gastronaut” Stefan Gates explores insects as a food ingredient
Recently UK-based writer and TV presenter Stefan Gates, who has a vast breadth of food knowledge and is well-known for his love of quirky culinary quests and extraordinary food adventures, spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the future of insects in food and his recent book “Insects: An Edible Field Guide,” which includes a list of edible insects and where to find them, their versatile usage and nutritional value as well as a few recipes.

“More and more companies crop up every year who are doing new and exciting things with insects. Whether or not they are really getting a huge amount of sales yet is another matter but certainly the number of products is increasing,” he said. 

“What is fascinating is that insects are no longer just something that is weird and revolting for people. Five to seven years, you would talk to people about it (insects) and they would say that you're absolutely mad, nobody is going to eat these things. And now, that’s no longer the common perception.” 

“There is still a lot of revulsion, but a lot of people who say ‘I’ve heard about this, it’s really good for the environment’. There’s a whole sea change in the perceptions about what the benefits are, and I think people are beginning to generally get it.

To listen to the full podcast with Stefan Gates, click here.

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