Many of us would turn our noses at the idea of edible insects, but they are actually a valuable source of protein and are already eaten by many cultures around the world. Edible insects are generally inexpensive to feed and breed and take up very little space, making them a more environmentally friendly alternative to other protein sources such as beef, chicken and even soy products.
A review in the magazine of Food Chemistry (opens in new tab) indicates that insects are an excellent source of dietary proteins, vitamins, minerals and lipids, as well as being a good source of fiber when the exoskeleton is consumed.
Another review in the journal of Molecular Immunology (opens in new tab) estimates that about two billion people worldwide already include insects in their daily diets, with popularity in South America, Asia and Africa. The rating also indicates that there is some overlap in insect allergies with seafood allergies and dust mite allergies, which should be taken into account when eating insects.
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Research in the Journal of Biotechnological Progress (opens in new tab)found that the protein content of insects is 40-75g/100g dry weight, which is huge compared to even protein-rich fish such as tuna, which comes in at 30g/100g, and chicken breast, at 21g/100g. The research also suggests that insect proteins have a high concentration of essential amino acids (46-96%) and a high digestibility (77-98%). With this in mind, some insect sources may be a better source of complete protein than the high protein foods we usually eat.
It’s also worth noting that insect products are already in many of the foods we consume in the west. Cochineal, a red food coloring, is made from crushed beetles and grain products contain a certain amount of insect particles that end up in the production process.
While you may not be ready to eat a fried cricket as a side dish, insects are already a big part of the human diet.
We spoke to Dr Birgit Rumpold, a research associate in the Department of Education for Sustainable Nutrition and Food Science at the Technical University of Berlin.
When asked what would be the best insect for human consumption, Dr. Rumpold us: “From an economic point of view, the best insect would be one that can be sustainably grown on unused, organic waste (also has little space, energy and water during rearing), is resistant to insect diseases, temperature and other stress, easy to growing, harvesting, processing and storing, is nutritious (also heavily dependent on the insect food), tastes good and is acceptable or accepted by the respective consumers as food and feed.
dr. Birgit Rumpold is a research associate at the Department of Education for Sustainable Nutrition and Nutritional Sciences of the Institute of Vocational Education and Training at the Technical University of Berlin. She is associate editor of the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed (JIFF) (opens in new tab)
Before that, Dr Rumpold was a visiting researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy.
“There are millions of insect species and about 2,100 edible insect species have been reported in the literature. At the current state of the art, the black soldier fly seems to be one of the best species as feed for aquaculture and livestock.”
In addition to the value that insects have as a new protein source for humans, they can also be useful components of the food supply chain in other ways. A review in Waste Management magazine (opens in new tab)explains that insects can be useful in reusing food waste, as after consumption of the waste, these insects can be used as animal feed, fertilizer and even to feed people. The short life cycle of most edible insects also means that they mature quickly and enter the supply chain, where some animals, such as beef cattle, take years to grow.
A 2022 study in The Science of the Total Environment (opens in new tab) also found that larvae of black soldier flies (a common edible insect) reduced organic matter from 40.97-46.07%, further illustrating their value in the food waste disposal process.
dr. Rumpold added: “Compared to conventional cattle in generalinsects have a higher feed conversion efficiency, ie they require less feed to produce 1 kg of biomass, have a higher fecundity (e.g. the common house cricket lays up to 1,500 eggs over a period of about one month (Nakagaki & Defoliart, 1991) ), are usually omnivores and can be grown on organic waste, equally nutritious and take up less space in the rearing process.
“In fact, it has been indicated that insects may produce less greenhouse gases than pigs and cattle.”
Originally published on Live Science.