Imagine sitting down to a bowl of big slimy lave. Or crunching on some grasshoppers. Sounds gross doesn’t it? Has anyone here actually eaten one? Perhaps while they’ve been travelling overseas? The ancient Romans considered beetle larvae to be gourmet fare, and the Old Testament mentions eating crickets and grasshoppers.
Generally I don’t go around eating insects unless they fly into my mouth by accident but I have eaten a couple on purpose. I tried a deep fried grasshopper when I was in Uganda. It wasn’t that bad – just tasted like a chip really but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat another one. Actually I’ve tried licking an ant’s bottom as well when I was in Sth America. It had a kind of lemony flavour. Kind of pointless but it was ok I suppose. And when I was in primary school we read a book called How to eat fried worms and I remember we had to collect worms and bring them into school where we ate them in an omelette. Couldn’t even taste it. But I don’t think I could eat a spider, especially a live one like they have to on that Fear Factor show. Imagine it wriggling around in your mouth! Yuk!
And while all of this sounds gross to us, in some countries it makes people’s mouths water. There are actually about 1500 types that are known to be part of the regular human diet. Silkworms, cicadas and others are devoured by the kilo. In fact, it’s really only us in Australia, Europeans and North Americans who don’t eat insects.
Well not intentionally anyway. But apparently each of us consumes about half a kilo of insects per year just from them flying into our food or mouths but also flying into food that we purchase. In the US, the FDA allows up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams of chocolate and tomato sauce can contain 30 fly eggs per 100 grams, and peanut butter can have 30 insect fragments per 100 grams.
But aside from this accidentally ending up in your food, some is purposely made from insect products. Take for example, the red food colouring in these lollies – it’s called cochinel and it’s made from the crushed carcasses of beetles – and it can be labeled as natural food colouring because technically it is. And this shiny effect on these jaffas is called Lac-resin. It’s produced from secretions from the Lac beetles.
So now that you know you are already eating insects without knowing it, would you consider eating them to save the world? As the global population booms and demand strains the world’s supply of meat, there’s a growing need for alternate animal proteins.
And there’s some really strong scientific evidence for the benefits of eating insects. For starters, there is less waste – proportionality more of the insect can get eaten. Typically only 35% of a lamb is consumed compared to 80% of a locust. Also, because they are cold blooded, insects require less food to produce a kilogram of meat. Ten kgs of feed yields one kgs of beef, three kgs of pork, five kgs of chicken and up to six kgs of insect meat. Insects are high in protein and essential vitamins and they are low in fat.
Scientists in the Netherlands have been pushing this issue since the 1990s and finally it is starting to catch on. Over the past two years, three Dutch companies, which normally raise insects for feed for animals in zoos, have set up special production lines to raise locusts and mealworms for human consumption. Now those insects are sold, freeze-dried, in two dozen retail food outlets that cater to restaurants.
In fact, even in London and New York, some restaurants are starting to serve them. At the UK restaurant Archipelago, diners can order the $11 Baby Bee Brulee: a creamy custard topped with a crunchy little bee.
Most likely the consumption of insects will be a gradual process – at first they will be used as meat replacements in things like meatballs or sauces but the switch has started.
So do you think that in the future you’ll be able to eat locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights? After all, is this locust so different from a prawn?