Edible Insects: The Alternative Protein People are Buzzing About

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I’ve previously blogged on the topic of edible insects, so I was thrilled to hear from Ghergich about their new blog and infographics on the subject. It is great to see real recipes using insects as an ingredient and I’m pleased to see how far the industry has progressed since I wrote my original post. So here’s a guest post for Curious Meerkat by Tafline Laylin for Ghergich.com, with a special introduction by Kaitlyn Blakeley. This article was originally posted on Fix.com.

Thinking about ways to increase your protein intake? You might want to think about bugs.

Yes, that’s right, we said it: Edible insects are an environmentally friendly addition to your dinner plate. How are they environmentally friendly? For starters, they need less water and less feed than traditional sources of protein. They also don’t release the same amount of greenhouse gases and don’t have the same troubling welfare issues as other animals that are harvested for their meat.

Different types of insects offer different levels of protein. Some may also be ground into typical ingredients like flour. If you’ve ever wanted to consider an unusual source of protein, use this graphic to do some investigating into the dietary power of edible insects.

While eating horse is perfectly normal in Belgium, it is taboo in the U.S. Similarly, most people in this country may react with disgust if you tell them you added tarantula to a sandwich, whereas in Cambodia and Venezuela, the furry spiders are cooked and eaten whole, similar to soft-shell crab or shrimp

Here’s the thing: We may not like the idea of eating insects, but over the years, our collective attitude will likely change – mostly because it has to. With rampant population growth and scarce land, we have no choice but to embrace alternative forms of protein if we hope to survive. Even our overfished oceans, which will comprise 50 percent plastic waste by 2050, won’t keep us alive.

Insects as a protein staple isn’t such a crazy idea. Today, 2 billion people consume up to 1,900 varieties of edible insects. Just under one-quarter of the world’s population of 7.4 billion people have embraced this nutritious food source, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is eager to increase that figure as an environmental and social imperative.

Entomophagy is the fancy term used to refer to the act of eating insects. The most commonly eaten insects include beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. They are packed with healthy fats and protein and contain high levels of calcium, iron, and zinc. And contrary to what your gag reflex may be telling you, insects can taste really good. Read on to find out how you can find insects and insect protein to eat, as well as learn more of the benefits of this alternative protein source.

Harvesting Insects

In 2011, Angelina Jolie told Huffington Post her kids eat crickets like Doritos. They reportedly loved them so much she had to nix them; she was concerned her children might get sick from overconsumption. So where did Jolie source them? Does she have to fly her children to some foreign country to sample cricket chips? Turns out she doesn’t have to, and neither do we.

The 2 billion people already eating insects have been rearing and harvesting them as part of their normal subsistence traditions for eons. While they can be harvested from the wild, semi-domesticated in the wild, or farmed, 92 percent of species are wild-harvested. Most of the edible terrestrial insects are herbivores, while aquatic species worth eating are predators. And believe it or not, these insects are in such high demand they are being over-harvested, prompting groups including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to establish conservation programs aimed at sustainable production of this valuable food source. In 2014, 11 countries around the world had established commercial insect harvesting operations in the wild, from Australia to Vietnam, India, and beyond.

In Europe and the U.S., we have been slower to catch on to this growing trend. But in recent years, budding entrepreneurs have heard the buzz and pioneered a suite of new technologies and methodologies to allow sustainable production of insects.

Open Bug Farm

Tiny Farms, a California-based insect farm, pioneered an open source approach to growing bugs for food. They call their project Open Bug Farm. While the company no longer sells kits to grow a mealworm farm at home, the open source project has an active community where people share information and advice on raising different species of insects.

Big Cricket Farms

In Ohio, a group raises tropical banded crickets en masse. Smaller than the European cricket, these are reportedly highly nutritious and delicious. Fed only organic feed, the crickets are raised in giant containers in a clean and climate-controlled environment. Their lifecycle is eight to 12 weeks, but in Youngstown, they are harvested at six weeks. And unlike traditional protein sources (such as beef, pork, or chicken) that are slaughtered before consumption, crickets are frozen, which puts them in a dormant state called diapause. They are then placed in a deeper freeze, which kills them humanely. This also ensures optimal freshness.

For recipe ideas, the website Insects Are Food has you covered. Some include cricket pad Thai, cricket fritters, and even chocolate-covered crickets for dessert.

LIVIN Farms Hive

If you’d rather breed your own food, LIVIN Farms is the way to go. They developed the world’s first desktop hive for edible insects, raising more than $145,000 on Kickstarter to take their concept to market. These mealworms are fed scraps from your kitchen, ensuring the user has control over their nutritional intake. With this system, it’s possible to grow up to 500 grams of protein a week, which is the equivalent to just over one pound of meat.

Aspire

This Texas-based company, which was created by five McGill University MBA students, has operations in the U.S., Mexico, and Ghana. Aspire raises Aketta insects offered either as crunchy snacks or flour, which can be made into baked goods or pancakes.

Environmental Benefits of Edible Insects

Eating Insects: Environmental Impact
Source: Fix.com Blog

At this point, you may still wonder why people would want to get on the bug train. Why switch out a juicy chicken cordon bleu for cricket du jour? Well, the Earth depends on it.

According to the FAO, insects require significantly less feed to grow and create a comparable amount of protein than other food animals – largely because they are cold-blooded and don’t require food energy to maintain their body temperature. As a result, two kilograms of feed produces one kilogram of insect protein, whereas cattle require four times as much feed to produce one kilogram of beef.

Also, it is well understood that raising livestock is one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn accelerate climate change. Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, its impact on climate change pound-for-pound is 25 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Insects, on the other hand, can actually help break down waste that would otherwise release heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere. Plus, they require significantly less space to rear. Think how many crickets you could raise in an industrial-sized feedlot.

While they make a great food source for humans, using insects for animal feed can help reduce the environmental impact of monocultures such as soy and corn. The FAO suggests the larvae of the black soldier fly, common housefly, and the yellow mealworm have the most potential for large-scale feed production, which would also help to reduce land pressures. The right kinds of insects are good for the Earth and they’re good for you.

Insect Nutrition

Eating Insects: Mealworm Nutritional Information
Source: Fix.com Blog

The FAO warns that just like any food, the nutritional value of any given insect depends in large measure on how it is prepared. Deep-fried crickets, for instance, would probably have fewer nutrients than a light cricket stir-fry. Still, they note some of the micronutrients, such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, and more, can be derived from certain species. Additionally, some insects are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, and frequently contain linoleic and a-linoleic acids that are considered particularly beneficial to developing children. Some are high in healthy fats, and you’d probably have to eat truckloads of insects to gain significant weight – except if you eat too many green weaver ants from Australia, which are highly caloric compared to other species.

Bug Bites to Try

Eating Insects: Cricket Flour Muffin Recipe
Source: Fix.com Blog

If you’re curious to give some bug bites a go, consider these existing edible insect products. And stay tuned: This industry is growing.

Chapul bars

If you love a good protein bar before or after a workout, mid-hike, or as a quick, shelf-stable snack for the car, Chapul offers a range of flavors made with cricket protein. Dairy- and soy-free, they offer a sustainable and healthy alternative to existing protein bars. The average 220-calorie bar contains 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of fat.

Larvets

If your kids constantly ask for sweet treats but you’re reluctant to ply them with high-fructose corn syrup and other junk, consider larvet worm snacks that come in BBQ, cheddar, and Mexican spice flavors. You can also try chocolate-dipped varieties. At just 9 calories apiece, they have a negligible impact on your waistline.

EdibleUnique

This U.K.-based organization has a huge variety of edible insects for sale. From giant grasshoppers and silkworm pupae flour to Thai scorpions, EdibleUnique seem to have one of the largest selections available on the market.

Cricket flour

Remarkably, buying cricket flour to use as an alternative in baked goods, smoothies, and more is incredibly easy. Companies all across the Internet offer ground-up insects for sale for roughly $15 for a pound compared to $8 to 10 for a pound of whey – depending on your sources. Just make sure you choose an organic product that is 100 percent cricket (and not mixed with some other mysterious ingredient).

Conclusion

A food revolution is underway as we find better methods of protein production to feed a growing population on a stressed-out planet. With more and more ways to access insects, innovative gourmands continue to make the transition to this brave new world as smooth as possible.

Read the original post on Fix.com.

Want to know more?

Bugs that taste like bacon, and other edible insects
The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the Future of Plastics
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States (2013) Forest products critical to fight hunger – including insects
Current World Population
Huffington Post (2011) Angelina Jolie Admits Her Kids Eat Crickets ‘Like Doritos’
Huis (2015) Edible insects contributing to food security? Agriculture and food security
Yen (2015) Insects as food and feed in the Asia Pacific region: current perspectives and future directions Journal of Insects as Food and Feed
Open Bug Farm
Insects are Food – Recipes
LIVIN Farms Hive
Decadent Cricket Flour Oat Pancakes
United States Environmental Protection Agency – Overview of Greenhouse Gases
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States (2013) Edible insects Future prospects for food and feed security
Cricket Flours All-Purpose Baking Cricket Flour (1lb)

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    By: Tafline Laylin

    Tafline Laylin is a freelance editor, photographer, and writer who specializes in environmental issues. Instead of spreading gloomy news, she attempts to focus on positive stories that will empower readers to take the necessary action to heal our planet. Tafline’s work has appeared in numerous publications across the globe, including The Ecologist, The Majalla, Green Prophet, and Dwell Magazine.

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