The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Accent photo

Food for thought – Insects on the menu

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

As you plan your Thanksgiving feast, is caterpillar custard or grasshopper gravy on the menu? Likely not; however, much of the rest of the world figured out long ago that entomophagy (insect consumption) can be a healthy, environmentally friendly gastronomical option.

According to the 2013 report entitled "Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) it is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. We may think of insects as famine food or something lost hikers eat, but insects are an integral part of many cuisines.

More than 1900 species of insects have reportedly been used as food. Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants. Following these are grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects, true bugs, termites, dragonflies and flies. My dog loves fresh crickets with their creamy nougat centers and crunchy coating.

Early Native Americans, such as those who lived freely in what today is the state of Utah, were very accustomed to eating grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. On their first tasting of shrimp, the Goshute Indians are reported to have named the creatures "sea crickets".

Want to surprise your Thanksgiving guests? Tell them sky-prawns are on the menu. In 2004 in Australia, Christopher Carr and Edward Joshua of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries proposed the renaming of locusts as "sky prawns" and compiled recipes in a cookbook, Cooking with Sky-prawns.

Once we get past our "yuk" reaction, here is some "food for thought": It is estimated by 2050 that there will be nine billion people on this planet. Add to that the challenges of the rising cost of animal protein, food and feed insecurity, environmental pressures, loss of productive land due to increasing housing and increasing demand for protein, maybe eating bug or two makes sense.

Overall, according to the FAO report, entomophagy can be promoted for three reasons:

Health:

· Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish.

· Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.

· Insects are naturally gluten-free.

· Insects already form a traditional part of many cultures with plenty of established recipes.

Environmental:

· Insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock.

· Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require land clearing to expand production.

· The ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs.

· Because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.

· Insects can be fed on organic waste streams such as food waste.

· Insects produce very little waste (bones etc.)

· Beyond people food, insects can be a significant and low land use protein source in poultry and aquaculture feed.

Livelihoods (economic and social factors):

· Insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of urban and rural society.

· As mini livestock insects reproduce quickly in high volumes on little land.

Curious about entomophagy? The chapuline is probably the best-known edible grasshopper in Latin America. This small grasshopper has been a part of local diets for centuries and is still eaten in several parts of Mexico. Cleaned and toasted in a little oil with garlic, lemon and salt for flavor, chapulines are a common food ingredient among not only indigenous communities but also the urban population.

Check out the FAO Edible insect report at http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf

View Article Archive >>