Nutritious, Cheap, and Plentiful –Why not eat insects?

by Mary Hall on April 11, 2013

Have you ever eaten an insect?  I have.  In the larval stage –steamed and buttered.  It was the size of a plump raisin, but green, and tasted like fresh steamed broccoli.  Actually, I believe I ate quite a few.  Does that make me an “entomophagist” ?   I would be inclined to say “no.”  An entomophagist is a person who eats insects as a general practice. I ate my larvae by accident, before I noticed them among the organic broccoli florets on my dinner plate.  Once I realized what I had done, I was fairly grossed out.

Nonetheless, just like you, I continue to  eat quite a few insects.   In  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) parlance, insect parts are “natural defects” in food.  Nothing’s perfect.   What are a few harmless insect heads, wings, eggs, larvae, and worms?    To give you an idea, here’s a sample of what you’ve been eating:

Information Source: U.S. FDA Defect Levels Handbook

Clearly, you’ve been enjoying foods containing insects (who doesn’t love chocolate? ).    Why not join 80% of the world’s population and make them an important part of your diet?  After all, insects are incredibly nutritious and tasty.

“They taste like a huge sunflower seed”

One student’s response upon eating a grasshopper 

Insects are more Nutritious than Meat

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), insects are an excellent source of protein. Like meat, they contain all of our essential amino acids.  Moreover, their protein content is often higher than that of beef, pork, chicken, or fish.  Add to that– insects are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fats.  They’re particularly high in  B vitamins, iron, and zinc.

What’s Holding Us Back?

It’s definitely not the nutritional profile.  Could it be our climate?  According to the FAO, given our climate and the fact that insects are cold-blooded, many developed nations have been at a disadvantage in terms of insect variety, size, and abundance.  This may be why we don’t have a long history of eating them.  In the tropics, insects are larger, more varied, and available year round.  In our climate, the insects are smaller and not always available due to hibernation.

While this explanation sounds feasible, it doesn’t make sense for the southernmost portion of the United States. You have to wonder why Southerners have failed to embrace insect cuisine.  They seem to be fumigating excellent food down there.

“China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World”

Story headline on FAO website for the Edible Insects Programme 

As the world’s population continues to grow, so do concerns about our ability to produce enough food.  The objective of the FAO Edible Insects Programme is  to cultivate insects as a sustainable food source worldwide.  Sooner or later, you may find yourself craving one or more of the  1,909 edible species of insect.

In Case You Want to “Try this at Home”

Why not start with something familiar–like a grasshopper.  It’s similar to shrimp (apparently).  You de-vein them and peel off their clear shells.  Or just bread them and deep fry them exoskeleton and all.  Maybe you should pull off the little legs  . . . oh, and the wings. 

“With a little soy sauce and a dash of paprika, a fried grasshopper tastes something like a little soy sauce and a dash of paprika”

From The Food Insects Newsletter

Recipe Source: The Food Insects Newsletter

 

SOURCES

Dunkel, F. 1991. McGrasshoppers in Montana from The Food Insects Newsletter. Volume IV, Number 1, March 1991. Montana State University        http://www.food-insects.com/Vol4%20no1.htm

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 1998. The Food Detect Action Levels: Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans. From Defect Levels Handbook. Accessed April 11, 2013.  Last Updated: April 9, 2013. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/SanitationTransportation/ucm056174.htm

Websites

Edible Forest Insects. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  http://www.fao.org/forestry/edibleinsects/65426/en/

This site provides an overview of topics involving edible insects, including nutritional benefits, environmental benefits, and availability in different parts of the world.

Food Insects Newsletter.  http://www.foodinsectsnewsletter.org/index.html

A collaborative effort involving specialists from various universities, including Montana State University at Bozeman, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Wageningen University, The Netherlands.