Edible Insects

A sustainable food source

written by

James Ballantyne

Crunchy Roasted Crickets - Smokin’ Hot, Edible Buffalo Worms, Cricket Protein Powder; surprisingly this is not a list of challenges on I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here. They are in fact edible insect products that you can buy in the UK right now. The market for edible critters is growing and has the potential to help in the fight against climate change. We unpack the health and environmental benefits of edible insects below.

Environmental Impact

By 2050 the UN predicts the world’s population will increase to 9.8 billion and the demand for food and feed is set to increase by 70%. The traditional food supply chain, in the West, relies heavily on cattle, pigs, and chickens, all of which have a high impact on the environment as they contribute large levels of greenhouse gases and use vast natural resources in their production.

Step forward edible insects! Though a relatively new phenomenon in the Western world, producing insects for food can lower the food industries impact on the environment. Rearing insects uses considerably less resources including the land they are farmed and the water used to produce their feed. For example, crickets need 2 kilograms of feed for each kilogram of body weight gained. In comparison, it can take up to 7 kilograms of feed for each kilogram gained in weight in cattle. In addition to the environmental benefits, insects are reported to be less likely to pass on disease to humans, livestock, and wildlife. Though this topic needs more research, it is another potential positive for switching our diet.

A black and white image of an edible insect market in Asia.
Edible Insect markets are common place in Asia.

The Protein Question

Though not yet popular in the Western world, edible insects are eaten by roughly 2 billion people predominantly in Africa and Asia. The West’s limited interest in eating insects maybe because Europe is home to only 2% of the world's edible insects but it’s also down to the perception of dining on insects. There is hope for the edible insect market, there are 2,000 insects that are edible across our planet, with such a range our culinary tastes can be met. The most popular insects eaten globally are beetles and then caterpillars. Beetle juice for breakfast anyone?

The nutritional value varies across species and further research is required to determine the true health benefits of edible insects. The early research is very promising, some species are high in amino acids, essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Gram for gram insects can also be higher in protein than beef, pork and chicken so they can be added to a well-balanced diet to help us keep fit and healthy.

Everything's not lost if the thought of snacking on crickets turns your stomach. There are other ways to introduce edible insects into your diet, for example cricket powder can be added to your morning smoothie and home baked bread to boost their protein content. Additionally, as of 2018, food that contains insects is subject to strict EU regulations to ensure they can be eaten safely and you have peace of mind. 

A person squeezing fresh lemon juice into their edible insect green smoothie.
Mind over matter. Consume insects as a powder in your morning smoothie.

Carbon Footprint

Before we delve into the impacts on our carbon footprint if we were to add edible insects to our diet, let’s hit pause and review the current state of play.

The Food and Agriculture Organization for the UN has found that the global livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of global greenHouse gas emissions. Therefore our traditional sources of protein; beef, pork, and chicken come with a lot of baggage. Insects, on the other hand, have a much smaller footprint. Insects that we are starting to see being sold in the Western world; mealworms, crickets, and locusts emit around 100 times less greenhouse gases compared with pigs and cattle. There has been a big increase in vegetarianism and veganism as we try to do our part to lower our carbon footprint. The huge saving in carbon may be the reason some of us try eating insects for the first time.

Five young cows huddle in close to look at the camera. Cattle emit 100 times more greenhouses gases compared to edible insects such as mealworms, crickets, and locusts.
Cattle emit 100 times more greenhouses gases compared to mealworms, crickets, and locusts.

Entomophagy could also offer a solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur with the growing population

Medical News Today

Who's Selling Edible Insects?

The edible insect sector is relatively new, though there are a couple of trailblazers who are selling tasty grubs, including high street names such as UK supermarket Sainsbury’s and Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca. There are several startups that are producing some tasty snacks, food supplements, and ingredients which we have listed below. 

A pile of edible insects on sale at an insect market.
Edible insect "Pick'n'Mix"
Safety Hand

Edible insects as a sustainable food source

Reduce your intake of protein traditionally found in beef, pork and chicken, and switch to or supplement insects as an alternative protein source.
Try them in a restaurant first.
If the thought puts you off, try insects in a powder form in a smoothie.
Browse youtube for insect cooking ideas.
Contact www.eatgrub.co.uk, www.crunchycritters.com or www.edibleinsects.com for advice on preparing and eating insects.
Invite friends round to join you on your new quest.

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. Edible insects - Future prospects for food and feed security - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  2. Eating insects is good for you — and the planet! - The ConversationExternal link
  3. Eating Insects (Entomophagy) - British Nutrition FoundationExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  4. Key facts and findings - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  5. Why eating insects could be the key to a sustainable planet - Environment JournalExternal link

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