It’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if this piece is appropriate or inappropriate in light of Thanksgiving this week—but either way, I hope you find it interesting and informative!
While the trend hasn’t necessarily hit mainstream news, insect farming for human consumption is on the rise. The practice of eating insects, entomophagy, has been prevalent in many cultures and religions worldwide for thousands of years. Over 2000 species of insects are consumed by ethnic groups across Africa, Asia, South, and Central America.
Even though eating insects is an ancient practice, it’s still largely taboo in Western culture. Most Westerners would rather hear the crunch of a bug under their shoe than anywhere near their plates—but entomophagy is slowly becoming a trend in the United States. According to Global Market Insights, the edible insect market is said to top $710 million by 2024.
So why is the edible insect market growing here? Keep reading to find out the nutritional value of eating insects (and insect products; no one’s directly crunching down on crickets yet) and the positive impact that insect farming has on the environment.
Why Edible Insects Are On the Rise
It’s not necessarily the insects themselves that are growing in popularity, but products made from them. The most common is cricket flour, which can be turned into energy bars, pasta, crackers, pancake mix, protein powder, and regular flour!
The creativity doesn’t stop there:
Mario Hernandez, chef at The Black Ant in New York City, has different bugs on his menu at different times of year. “We change our insects according to the season,” he says.
That means waiting for specific bugs that come in the summer, or during the rainy season: agave worms, grasshoppers, ants and ant caviar (ant eggs), even one insect that he says tastes like chocolate, to use in deserts. He says that cooking with insects allows him to explore traditional Mexican gastronomy, and that each bug has a taste that adds something to his food.
Grasshoppers have an earthy, mushroomy taste and turn red when you cook them, just like lobster. Hernandez serves them in tacos and as a bisque with potatoes. Ants are spicy, nutty, and shrimpy — Hernandez uses their bellies in his guacamole and The Black Ant’s bartender uses them in the salt rims of his tequila and mezcal drinks.
Insects Are High In Nutritional Value
Research shows that insects have more protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, and lipids than traditional livestock when compared pound for pound. Insects have crude protein levels between 40% and 75% and are high in amino fatty acids and dietary fiber.
The levels of omega 3 and omega 6 inside mealworms are on par with fish. Other species high in omega fatty acids include:
- House and short tail crickets
- Scarab beetles
Additionally, certain species of insects have micronutrients that aren’t found in animal proteins. For example, there’s more calcium, vitamin C, and protein in 1kg of mealworms than beef. There’s more riboflavin (essential for metabolic energy production) in termites than there is in chicken.
Edible insects are nutrient and calorie dense, which means they may be a more viable food source to fight world hunger. On top of the nutritional efficiency, insect farming is affordable and eco-friendly.
Insect Farming is Becoming Popular
The process of farming insects is called “mini livestock.” As of 2019 there were more than 50 insect farmers in Australia–double than the year prior.
A popular mealworm and cricket company in Perth called Grubs Up says it costs the company $200 to farm 1kg (2.2 lbs) of crickets. Their revenue doubled between 2018 and 2019 and is expected to double again this year.
The Environmental Benefits of Insect Farming
One of the main reasons insects are much cheaper to produce is that they consume less energy and resources than livestock.
For example, you need just one gallon of water to produce a pound of cricket flour, compared to 2,000 gallons per pound of beef. Crickets require six times less feed than cattle and produce 80% less methane.
Beyond human consumption, insects can also be raised as animal feed, turning low-grade organic by-products into high-quality feed that’s healthier and uses fewer resources to produce.
Another reason why insect farming has become so prevalent is food insecurity, which is when food becomes unavailable or unsafe to eat. Global climate change not only causes famine and other natural disasters that impact food sources, but also affects the quality of farmable land itself.
Additionally, as the world population grows, so does the demand for food. Could insect farming solve the global food crisis on multiple levels?
Insect Consumption in the Western World
More and more people in Western society are becoming environmentally aware and health conscious. That means practicing more sustainable ways of living, which could include changing one’s diet to lessen the impact on the environment.
The high nutritional value of insects, combined with their minimal environmental footprint and low cost of production, means this trend is probably here to stay.
Suppliers are going out of their way to make “bug food” as palatable as possible by transforming the raw product into processed flours and powders, but more cutting-edge restaurants are taking it a step further. If you’re ever in New York City and feel adventurous, check out The Black Ant, as described earlier.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control