Insect consumption needs to overcome barriers
Food preparation using cricket garnish and ground cricket
Edible insects could be a key ingredient to avoiding a global food crisis, according to a new report, but there are significant barriers to overcome before they are part of the mainstream.
The rapidly changing climate and an expanding global population are serious risks for worldwide food security. Edible insects have a high nutritional value and significantly lower carbon footprint compared to meat production and are a viable option as a sustainable source of protein. Despite this, edible insect cultivation remains rare in western countries, where eating insects is still considered unusual.
In a new study, researchers from the University of Leeds and University of Veracruz in Mexico have reviewed current insect farming methods, processing technologies and commercialisation techniques, as well as current perceptions towards entomophagy – the practice of eating insects.
The report is published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety and reviews research collected from around the world. It highlights that the benefits of increasing insect consumption have been widely explored, but not the technological and processing approaches that can help achieve this goal. The researchers emphasis that commercialisation and processing techniques that focus on the preferences of the younger generation is the best way to normalise edible insects.
Overcoming the ‘ick factor’
Study author Dr Alan-Javier Hernández-Álvarez from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds said: “Edible insects are fascinating. Although humans have eaten insects throughout history, and approximately two billion people around the globe regularly eat them today, research on the subject is relatively new.
“Edible insects could be the solution to the problem of how to meet the growing global demand for food in a sustainable way.
“The ‘ick factor’ remains one of the biggest barriers to edible insects becoming the norm. Eating behaviour is shaped largely during early childhood and in western countries, eating insects, especially in whole and recognisable forms, remains something seen mostly on TV shows.
“In some European countries consumers, particularly young adults, have shown interest in new food products that use insects in un-recognisable form, such as flour or powder used in cookies or energy drinks. Developing efficient large-scale processing technologies that can develop insects powders could go a long way to helping introduce insects as a common source of protein and nutrients.”
Innovation required for growing demand
Study author Dr Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne from the University of Veracruz said: “In Western countries it is the younger generation that show more willingness to try new food products, including edible insects.
“However, in some countries where insects have been part of a culinary tradition, such as Mexico, Nigeria and Botswana, the younger population is rejecting insects as a food source, associating it with poverty and a provincial mind set.
“Promoting insects as an environmentally sustainable protein source appeals to the current attitudes in the younger generation. Another successful strategy involves serving insects as snacks between meals, which would increase inclusion of insects in daily diets. These types of snacks are increasing in popularity in the global market.
“But if edible insects are to become a common food source current farming techniques and technologies could struggle with the demand and need to be expanded.”
Compared to meat production, insect farming uses much smaller amounts of land, water and feed, and it is possible to cultivate them in urban areas. Insect farming also produces far fewer greenhouse gases.
However, more development is needed in large-scale insect farming as the report finds there is significant need for a technological leap from wild harvesting to indoor farming.