Meeting the Global Demand for Food
The global demand for food is expected to increase substantially from anywhere between 59% to 98% by 2050. A major factor in this increase is higher incomes and an expected population of 9.1 billion (up from the current 7.7 billion).
To meet these growing demands, we’ll need to produce almost twice as much food as we currently do.
But that certainly isn’t going to be an easy task considering that we already use 70% of agricultural land to raise livestock and a large percentage of the world’s fish species are overfished. Not to mention the related environmental impacts. These include climate change, air pollution and water scarcity which threaten global crop production.
However, there might be a solution as food researchers are looking into the potential of using new sources of protein to combat this crisis.
The bad news? The source of protein being touted by many researchers is…edible insects.
Crickets for Breakfast?
You might squirm at the thought of entomophagy (the consumption of insects), but according to researchers, they are the future of food. So, this could mean fried crickets on the breakfast table, mealworm lettuce wraps, and even milk made from fly larvae. And if that doesn’t sound appetising enough to you, you may even have to swap your favourite burger and chips for a crunchy insect sandwich.
Many countries have already adopted insects as a source of protein. For example, in countries such as Africa, Asia, and South America, eating insects is commonplace. And it has been for thousands of years. It’s a different story for countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, where eating insects is still rare, and even considered taboo for some people.
However, this could all be about to change as some experts claim we’ll have no choice in the future given the risks climate change, pollution, soil erosion and disease pose to the global agricultural system.
The Nutritional Benefits of Eating Insects
So, what’s good about eating insects?
They may not look too appealing, but insects such as grasshoppers, ants, wasps, beetles, crickets, and cockroaches, have a high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre, and mineral content. In fact, insects contain almost all the nutritional benefits that you get from eating fish or livestock.
As an example, house crickets contain on average 205 g per kg of protein. As a comparison, beef contains around 256 g/kg and chicken contains on average 270 g/kg.
Insects also provide the essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids required for human nutrition. In fact, some insects such as mealworms contain as much unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids to that in fish. And even more than the amount in beef and pork.
Insects are also packed with vitamins like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and biotin as well as being rich in trace elements such as copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, manganese and so on.
Eating Bugs is Better for the Environment
As well as being nutritious, insects are also better for the environment. Livestock production involves a lot of environmental impacts. It accounts for around 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions. These emissions contribute to rising temperatures and an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and droughts. It also accounts for water pollution by pesticides and fertiliser.
On the other hand, insects such as mealworms, crickets and locusts emit far less greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia in comparison to livestock. What’s more, they can be fed on waste that livestock cannot (currently, over 30% of cropland worldwide is used to feed livestock). So, this means that they don’t compete with humans for the same food.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also promoted insects as a protein source in part because insects, which are cold-blooded, are more efficient at converting their food into meat. As an example, crickets require around 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of meat, with roughly 80% of this being edible. On the other hand, cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of body weight gain. However, only 40% of the cow can be consumed.
Insects also require less water and land than the world’s typical livestock. So, from an environmental point of view, they are an ideal choice.
Not Everyone is on the Eating Insects Bandwagon
Although eating insects as a protein source has been touted as a sustainable solution by many, not everyone agrees.
According to Swedish researchers, there is insufficient knowledge on basic questions such as suitable species, housing and feeding requirements, managing their waste and so on.
So, before mass production begins, they claim extensive research is required or else one environmental problem could be replaced with another.
Will Insects be Accepted?
There’s also the question whether insects will be readily accepted by consumers.
As mentioned previously, in many western societies there remains a degree of disgust and distain for their consumption, with many consumers struggling to see them as a food source.
In a survey by the European Consumer Organisation, just 10% of people said they’d be willing to replace meat with insects.
Are Consumers Missing Out?
However, are consumers making a big deal over nothing and missing out on a huge range of exceptional flavours and tastes?
Yes, according to some people. Take the Witjuti, or Witchetty grub for example. It’s a moth larvae eaten by Aboriginal people in Australia. Not only is it a great source of fatty acids, but apparently it tastes delicious too. When roasted on a fire the skin crisps up like roast chicken. Many people claim that it tastes like almonds, or peanut butter. Similarly, mealworms are often described as tasting nutty or like roasted seeds when they are roasted. And when they are pan-friend, they are described as resembling bacon flavouring and texture.
But, the question remains, how can people in the Western world be convinced to eat insect products? There’s undoubtedly a huge barrier of the yuck factor and getting over the oddness of biting into insect products.
So, more creative solutions from the food industry are certainly needed to make insects in food products an appetising option for consumers.
Find Out More
Thanks for reading our latest blog article. Do you think you’d be willing to try edible insects?
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