Edible Insects?

If you enter ‘edible insects’ into Google, you are immediately confronted by websites offering fried grasshoppers and butterfly sweets; it’s clearly a big market, so what are we missing?

Photo Credit: Eddy Milfort, Tarantulas, Thailand. http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddymilfort/5345350771/

Photo Credit: Eddy Milfort, Tarantulas, Thailand.

‘Entomophagy’ (insect eating) is practiced all all over the world. The UN Food Standards Authority estimates approximately 2.5 billion people are consuming over 1000 insect species in their regular diet; there are around 40 tonnes of them for every human.

Any student who’s made the trip to South East Asia will tell you tales of the insectivorous delicacies on the street corners: crispy deep fried worms; chilli and lime roasted crickets. Even Heston has recently had a shot at some invertebrate ingredients (unsurprisingly).

With a population now breaching 7 billion, GM crops and fish farms are all the rage. Research for alternative food sources is fast underway. Last year a UN Campaign was launched, promoting the EU to spend 3 million euros researching the potential of edible insects. But what about ethics?

‘Edible’, based in London, is a small scale enterprise that sources exotic insects and animals for sale in the UK… to eat. They boast strong principles of ‘fair trade sourcing’, ‘strict wildlife conservation’, and ‘supporting indigenous ways of life’. Their website states that 10% of profits are directed to endangered species conservation projects, in countries that source their ingredients.

As the most abundant animal on earth, insects present a perfect answer to increasing world hunger. ‘Minilivestock’ (intentional insect cultivation) boasts the advantages of not requiring grains to feed livestock; saving crops for human consumption. With developing nations such as China and India increasing meat demands to serve a growing middle-class, it is expected that 70% more agricultural land will be needed to farm those animals. 10kg of feed can eventually equate to 1kg of beef – or 9kg of locust meat.

But, as usual, Western taboo prevails. It often goes missed that we are actually consuming bee regurgitation (honey), insect parts in flour, and larvae and eggs that hid in the rotten tomato that was discarded for your processed can of pasta sauce.

You can eat almost anything, from dragonflies to earth worms, cockroaches to centipedes (providing you cook off the parasites first, of course). According to one site, bee larvae with butter and honey tastes very much like bacon.

Next time you visit China Town, take a look in the asian supermarkets for some alternatives to your stir fry…