In the United States and Europe, most citizens aren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of eating bugs. But in certain parts of Africa, Asia, and South America, it is common practice to consume safe-to-eat insects.
Experts including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) believe that edible insects are an economic, sustainable, and healthy food source that more people should consider.
1. Good Source of Nutrition
Insects have a lot of protein and other vital nutrients packed inside their tiny bodies. Depending on the type and development stage, an insect’s protein content varies from 20% to 76% of dry matter.
For example, just 100 grams of red ants contain at least 14g of protein, which packs more than two eggs. Red ants also provide a generous amount of zinc and iron, plus 48g of calcium in less than 100 calories and carbs.
100g of soldier fly larvae possess more zinc and iron than salmon, chicken, or even lean beef. Throw in the 934mg of calcium and you have got yourself an impressively nutritious snack.
Crickets, meanwhile, are suggested to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and may reduce inflammation in the body. Valerie Stull, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues conducted a two-week clinical trial in which 20 healthy men and women ate 25g of powdered cricket meal made into a breakfast of muffins and shakes.
Stull and her team reported that crickets contain a type of fiber called chitin. It is different from fibers found in fruits and vegetables. Chitin serves as a food source for beneficial bacteria, commonly known as probiotics. Participants of the trial also reported no significant side effects or changes.
2. Resource Efficient
Edible insects are not just good for the body, but good for the planet overall.
Livestock, meadows, and pastures represent almost 80% of total agricultural land and contribute nearly 15% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, insect farming uses much less space and releases far less methane gas and ammonia, emitting a single gram of greenhouse gases per kilogram of protein.
Producing one kilogram of beef requires about 15 liters of water, while producing the same amount of mealworms only uses about four liters.
According to the FAO, crickets have a high food conversion rate, and only “need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.”
Insect farming is also beneficial to the economy, because even a medium-sized farm that produces 500 to 750 kg of crickets multiple times a year can earn a net income between $5,000 to $10,000 in a country where the average yearly gross national income per capita is about $5,640.
There are risks to consuming insects, but they are relatively small and easily controlled.
Some insects can be contaminated by pesticides or carry parasites. One study realized that mealworm proteins have the potential to trigger a reaction from individuals with dust mite and shellfish allergies.
Most experts agree that the benefits outweigh the risks, but there is nothing wrong with exercising caution and doing more research if felt necessary.
4. Where to Buy
If you are intrigued enough to try some edible insects yourself, there are plenty of ways to get your hands on a delicious meal(worm).
There are restaurants across the globe that serve a variety of gourmet insect dishes from chapuline tacos to marinated spiders. You can also attempt to make these meals at home with David George Gordon’s Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
Follow in Timon and Pumbaa’s footsteps and rustle up some “slimy yet satisfying” grubs for your next snack. Hakuna matata.