Edible insects to fill our plates

For many years, edible insects have been touted as one of the main alternatives to meat consumption to provide the protein and minerals needed to feed the world’s ever-expanding population. The negative impact of meat farming on the environment is already palpable and the forecasts of specialists and scientists are clear on this subject: it is impossible to envisage being able to produce enough meat to feed everyone.

Eating edible insects is thus announced as one of the protein consumption modes of the future, but not only. Did you know, for example, that the food coloring E120, or carmine, comes from the cochineal, which is part of the insect family. The food and pharmaceutical industries are major users of E120, and it is estimated that each person already consumes about 500 grams of insects through this method. If we add to this consumption the accidental presence of insects in certain industrial food products (cereals, legumes and flour), we obtain, according to experts, a figure of around 1 kilogram of insects consumed per person each year. Here is perhaps what will lift the psychological brake surrounding the consumption of these small beasts, at least in the West.

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Consumption already established in many countries of the world

If entomophagy, the consumption of insects, is still a curiosity in France and more generally in the West, it is however common and normal in many countries. Anyone who has travelled or visited Asia, and more particularly Thailand, China or Japan, will have noticed the presence of many species of insects on the market stalls, in many forms: kebabs, dishes or meals.

It is also possible to extend this finding to certain countries in Africa or South America. There is therefore no general contraindication to entomophagy, but only particular cases to which we will return later. The main obstacle limiting the widespread consumption of edible insects in our countries is therefore essentially psychological and cultural, which highlights the importance of the way in which these insects are prepared, cooked, decorated and presented. A real “culinary education” seems to be necessary in order to learn how to progressively integrate insects in everyday food in order to overcome the obstacles caused by their visual aspect, which remains frightening and unappetizing for the majority of people.

What are these edible insects?

It is important to understand that not all insects are edible and that it is therefore necessary to scrupulously buy from specialists, whose production is controlled and guaranteed without health risks. The main varieties of insects that can now be easily obtained on the internet or in some stores are the following:

  • Crickets (whole or in flour).
  • Locusts.
  • Cicadas.
  • Weaver ants.
  • Black scorpions.
  • Tarantulas.
  • Mealworms.

These different species are generally available in their natural form, but also in flavored recipes using ingredients such as lemon, basil, curry, chili or various sauces common in the daily diet.

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Nutrient-rich foods

If the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been advocating the breeding and consumption of insects since 2013, it is mainly for their high natural nutrient content. This nutritional aspect makes them a realistic alternative to meat consumption, while allowing for more respectful and gentle production and breeding methods for the planet, as we will see later.

These nutrients present in edible insects are the following:

  • Protein (up to 50% for mealworms).
  • Zinc.
  • Iron.
  • Omega 3 and Omega 6.

To complete this nutritional aspect, it should be added that the consumption of insects contains less fat and cholesterol than traditional meats while providing carbohydrates, which are totally absent from the composition of beef, poultry or pork.

Moreover, the natural simplicity of insect farming, including industrial farming, considerably limits the risk of diseases and health crises that regularly strike the meat and fish industries in many countries around the world. To read more about the findings of the FAO report on the role of edible insect consumption and the prospects for food and feed security, please click here.

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A much more environmentally friendly production

The interest of breeding and eating insects is not limited to their contribution in animal proteins, because their production has the advantage of being much less harmful to the environmental balance than that of meat. A balance that we now know is particularly fragile and increasingly threatened.

The best way to visualize and understand the differences between insect farming and meat farming is to make direct comparisons:

  • It is necessary to use 20 kg of vegetable food to obtain 1 kg of proteins in cattle breeding, 7 kg of food in pig breeding, against only 2 kg for insect breeding.
  • To obtain 1 kg of beef, 60 liters of water must be used to water the animals and irrigate the crops for their food, whereas insects get water directly from their food.
  • It takes ten times less space for insects to produce a quantity of animal protein than it does to produce the same quantity in cattle farming.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from the production of edible insects are 100 times lower than those for the production of animal meat.

When should I avoid eating insects?

Insects contain the same allergens as crustaceans, mollusks and dust mites. People who know they are allergic should therefore avoid eating edible insects, or at least have the right medicine to reduce the effects of a possible allergic reaction.

It is also important to remember that the consumption of insects should be limited to products that are professionally raised and marketed and should not be done through personal harvesting of insects in the wild. Indeed, they may contain harmful products, such as pesticides, insecticides and herbicides that are present in our gardens, fields and forests.

Insects are also excluded from a vegetarian or vegan diet, although it must be admitted that their breeding eliminates, in fact, the scenes of animal mistreatment that are often at the origin of the decision to stop eating meat and fish.

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