Beef or Crickets for Dinner?

beef or crickets for dinner

Current meat production practices are not sustainable, destructive to the environment, terribly inhumane, and cannot keep up with the growing global population. The answer, according to some experts, is more wide use of insects not only as a protein source, but for their other nutrients as well. Will we soon be choosing between beef or crickets for dinner?

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Billions are already eating insects

For billions of people around the world, chomping on crickets and worms is an everyday occurrence. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) report, Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security in 2013, approximately 2 billion people already enjoy one or more of 1,900 different insect species as part of their diet.

Aside from swallowing the occasional fly or ant accidentally, people in North America, Europe, and some other areas of the world don’t find the act of eating insects to be appealing at all. (Note, however, that most people are eating small amounts of insects and insect parts unknowingly in processed and fresh foods, which have acceptable levels of these substances, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)

Why it may be crickets and not beef for dinner

By 2050, the amount of food necessary to feed the world’s population will double. Since we are unable to feed the current population adequately (more than 13 percent of the global population is chronically hungry), the need for a viable alternative source of nutritious food is urgent.

Insects are high in protein and may fill that need, and some companies are already taking action. Although nearly 2,000 insect species are now being consumed around the world, experts interested in solving the pending worsening food crisis are focusing on which insects are the most nutritious and easy to farm.

The UNFAO report notes that beetles are the most popular insect currently consumed (31% of total), with caterpillars and Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) coming in at 18 and 14 percent, respectively. Although these may be the more popular insects on the plate, a new study was interested in analyzing the nutritional value of various insects to determine which ones may be the best to eat overall.

Which is more nutritious, sirloin or crickets?

The research team was a collaborative effort between experts at Ningbo University in China and King’s College London. Under direction of Gladys O. Latunde-Dada, the team evaluated the nutritional profiles (i.e., calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc) of crickets, grasshoppers, buffalo worms, and mealworms and used a human digestion model to determine nutrient absorption.

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They found that:

  • Sirloin beef and crickets had greater levels of calcium, iron, and magnesium than the other insects
  • Crickets were superior to beef when it came to available iron
  • Calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc in crickets, grasshopper, and mealworms were more readily bioavailable than the same nutrients in beef.

The authors concluded that “Commonly consumed insect species could be excellent sources of bioavailable iron and could provide the platform for an alternative strategy for increased mineral intake in the diets of humans.”

Comparing edible insects and meat

Edible insect farms are slowly cropping up around the United States and the world. One example is the Big Cricket Farms, the first such facility certified by the FDA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture; others include Tiny Farms in California and Entomo Farms in Ontario, among others.

To get one pound of usable cricket meat, it takes two pounds of feed, while it take 25 pounds of feed for the same one pound of beef. Similarly, it takes about one gallon of water to raise one pound of cricket meat compared with 51 gallons per pound of beef.

Other advantages of crickets over cows is that the insects produce 100 times fewer greenhouse gasses, they have 50 percent the fat and one third more protein than beef. Raising insects for food requires a miniscule amount of space when compared with raising food animals, space that could be used to grow food crops for human consumption.

If the thought of putting a cricket into your mouth disgusts you, you may have a different reaction to cricket flour, which is a common way to make insect protein available. Cricket flour can be used like regular flour in baked goods. Edible insects are also available as chips, covered in chocolate, as puffed snacks, and in candies.

Sources
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security
Food and Drug Administration. The Food Defect Action Levels
Latunde-Dada GO et al. In vitro iron availability from insects and sirloin beef. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2016 Oct 12; DOI:10.1021/acs.jafc.6b03286

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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