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Would You Eat This Good, Cheap Source of Protein?

In many parts of the world, entomophagy is not so strange, but we have not quite embraced it here in the US. But one group of scientists hope to change that.


What is entomophagy you ask? It is the practice of eating insects. In parts of Asia, some species are actually regarded as delicacies! Western folk have a “cultural resistance” but Anna Jansson, professor of animal physiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences says that insect-eating may become more common for both health and economic reasons.

While insects are obviously abundant and caught in the wild, some can be “farmed” or reared, just like cows or pigs. Crickets, for example, are often fed chicken feed partly because it is cheap but researchers have found that the insects really grow well on this type of food.

Dr. Jansson’s research is mainly toward finding a good quality, inexpensive protein for cultures where food is scarce, such as Cambodia, once of the world’s poorest countries where it is estimated that 40% of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition. The team is learning more about how to feed crickets other foods such as weeds or cassava in the hopes of being able to provide this nutrient-dense food to the population.

But back to the Western World. Would you eat a cricket?

Nutritionally, insects are quite excellent,” says Arnold van Huis PhD, an entomology researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “In a number of instances, they’re even better than normal meat.” Dr. Van Huis says that ounce for ounce, crickets provide more than twice the protein of beef (of course, it would take a lot of crickets to make an ounce!)

Van Huis also mentions that because you are eating the insects whole, you obtain more of some other key nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.

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I’m not there yet for eating bugs “straight.” But you may be already eating insects in some form. The following ingredients are common in US foods:

• Carmine is a vibrant red food colorant made from the crushed abdomens of female, beetle-like African insects.
• Kerria Lacca, or shellac is a crunchy candy coating made from secretions from the female lac bug.

Plus, keep in mind that most manufactured or grown foods in the US have a FDA approved “minimum” for bugs in food. For example, up to eight bug parts are legally allowed in each chocolate bar. At that IPA? Hops are home to aphids (an average of more than 2500 per 10 grams of hops) and these can appear in your beer.

A little extra protein in your weekend treat, right?

Journal Reference:
P. Miech, Å. Berggren, J.E. Lindberg, T. Chhay, B. Khieu, A. Jansson. Growth and survival of reared Cambodian field crickets (Teleogryllus testaceus) fed weeds, agricultural and food industry by-products. Journal of Insects as Food and Feed, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.3920/JIFF2016.0028

Additional Resources:
Time: Crickets Eating Insects Isn’t as Eco-Friendly As People Say
Men’s Health: Crickets – The Perfect Protein
Eat This Not That: 9 Bugs You Are Eating in Your Food

Photo Credit:
By Naveen Mathew (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons