Nature, Science

Are Insects the Food Of the Future?

Are insects the food of the future?
Edible insects for sale at a street market.

Humans have been eating insects forever, though there are a lot of people who would like to think otherwise. But insects as a food source could be a huge help to the world, especially because unlike cattle, they don’t create methane (a greenhouse gas) or require vast areas to graze in (which destroys indigenous ecosystems). Insects could fill some large gaps in diets around the world, especially because they’re high in protein but low in fat.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has been investigating the value of crickets and mealworms, two of the most commonly farmed insects on the continent, as food. They found that both could be fragmented and used in foods like meatballs or falafel, and can provide a large protein boost. These ground bugs, according to VTT, contain about 65 to 80 percent crude protein, which is a huge payoff compared to many of the animals we normally eat.

On the other hand, a study in the journal PLOS One showed that even though the United Nations has promoted insect eating as a solution to the global problem of lack of access to quality protein, the bugs may not produce that much quality protein after all.

The level of protein in insects depends largely on the diet those insects are fed, the researchers found. In the experiment, they raised two groups of crickets and harvested them after two weeks. One group ate corn-, soy-, and grain-based feed, while the others lived on food waste and crop residue. Nearly all the crickets fed straight food waste died before they could be harvested. Those who ate processed food waste had a protein conversion rate no higher than that of chickens. The most successful crickets ate a grain-based diet, much like the diet of poultry animals, and they too had a protein conversion rate only slightly better than chickens.

“I’m all for exploring alternatives, and I am impressed by the amount of innovation that has sprung up around insect cultivation and cuisine in the last few years,” study author Dr. Mark Lundy of the University of California told Time magazine. “However, I also think we need to be clear-eyed about what the sustainability gains are and aren’t, and focus our innovative efforts and limited resources to where they will have the most lasting impact.”

That said, insects are and will continue to be an essential source of protein, not a trendy novelty, for billions of people all around the world.

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