Within the western world insects are usually swatted off plates, instead of being prepared for seasoning or soaking in a marinade. The misconception that insects are generally inedible in Western countries, may need to be changed unless something is done in the near future about the lack of crop space; the fertility of the land for the growth of staple foods; and grain for the feeding of cattle for which the western world is so dependent on.
Insect consumption (Entomophagy) of eggs, larvae and pupae is becoming increasingly common and seen as a staple food in many parts of the world. 36 African countries are “entomophagous,” as are 23 in the Americas, 29 in Asia, and 11 in Europe. The most frequently consumed insects are ants, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, locusts and mealworms.
It has been documented that the early humans were frequent insect eaters. Before tools had been developed for hunting or farming, insects formed an important part of the human diet. Moreover, people lived mainly in warm regions, where a variety of insects were readily available throughout the year. Insects were also an essential source of early man’s protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. This was vital for survival due to their high physical activity level required for hunting and scavenging.
Based on current demographic and dietary trends, the world needs to double its food production over the next 40 years to meet food production demand. This will require exceptional productivity gains while risking ecological disaster. A case for the emergence of insects can be made that our bodies have adapted to digest them and have become capable of utilising all the nutrients insects possess. Comparing this to creating our foods in laboratories to address the global food requirements. The laboratory foods utilise the adaptions of natural foods and chemicals, which can mean the adaption to the foreign bodies to try and avoid illness.
Insects are often consumed whole but can also be processed into granular or paste forms.
The sensory properties of edible insects can allow for the appealing consumption of insects. Taste and flavour of insects are very diverse. The environment where insects live and the feed that they are given (just like with cattle), mainly affect their flavour. During the cooking process, insects readily take the flavour of added ingredients. The skeletons of insects provide the texture and crunchy sounds, which accompany some dishes.
Here’s where crunchy snacks come in. Insects are 10 times more efficient than livestock in transforming feed into edible meat. Also they largely avoid the greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other environmental pollutants, associated with cattle. Overall, having a source of food, which can be environmentally sound, plentiful, palatable and nutritious, not being on our supermarket shelves may just be a matter of time.
These crunchy critters may not be the silver bullet for food security. However, they can play an integral part to the solution.