The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently suggested that eating bugs (yes, insects) could help feed the world’s fast-growing population. Along these lines, Anna Jansson, professor of animal science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, has shown how nutrient-rich insects can make a big contribution to diet in poor countries. Surprisingly, they can also help in the fight against climate change.
Crickets have twice the protein level of beef. In Pacific Asia, they have been staples for centuries and make a nutritious snack to this day. They contain far more iron than spinach or other greens.
Farming crickets, a big business in many such areas, usually involves giving the insects chicken feed, which is a relatively expensive meal. Climate News Network recently focused on Jansson’s study in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. The research identified various weeds and agricultural by-products that can also function as feed for crickets.
The scientists fed the inexpensive new diet to Cambodian field crickets (Teleogryllus testaceus) in captivity. Cambodia has one of the world’s poorest populations, with malnutrition affecting almost half (40%) of children under the age of five.
The researchers found that discarded parts of crops (the tops of cassava plants, for instance) and weeds such as the fringed spider flower (Cleome rutisdosperma) fatten up crickets over two months just as well as chicken feed does. “What our study shows is that it is possible to rear crickets on feeds that don’t compete with other kinds of food production,” they say.
And now scientists say that eating bugs such as crickets can also help lessen climate change by reducing beef consumption. Cattle, a major source of protein in human food, consume huge amounts of crops and water. They also occupy vast areas of range land, and their excrement produces large volumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas at least 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over the short term.
“Since there are both climate and environmental benefits of eating insects, we believe the habit will become more common, even in western countries,” the study avers. The researchers hope that crickets and other insects may become part of the western diet and substitute for climate-harming meat. A single kilogram of feed yields 12 times as much edible protein from crickets as from beef.
“The study authors suggest some recipes that might appeal squeamish western tastes,” says Climate News Network. “These include deep-fried corn tortillas with garlic-fried house crickets, and roasted house crickets with buttered chanterelles, dill, pickled onion rings, and mustard seeds.”
Neil Whippey, of the British edible insect company Grub, told Olivia Solon in “Overcoming the yuck factor”:
“They are meaty and crunchy and have a prawny, bacony flavour when roasted. They aren’t squishy and horrible…. People should take them seriously as a food source that’s tasty, nutritious, and sustainable.”
Entrepreneur Pat Crowley has founded a more mainstream way of eating bugs than the delicacies mentioned above. Chapul Bars is introducing to the U.S. commercial food sector a palatable way to eat insects—cricket-based energy bars. To make the bars, farmed crickets are baked and then milled to convert them into “cricket powder,” which is then combined with dates, almonds, and other natural ingredients. Says Crowley:
“Psychology can change–in the early 1960s, most Americans associated raw fish with the local bait shop, but then an entrepreneur named Noritoshi Kanai opened a sushi bar in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1966, catering to Japanese businessmen. The next year, John Belushi started frequenting Kamehachi, a new lunch spot across the street from The Second City, and New York City saw its first sushi bar open in 1975.
Today, the residents of Des Moines, Iowa, can choose from some 50 sushi restaurants, and MenuPages lists 700 for Manhattan alone. I see Chapul in a similar vein–a simple, tasty introduction to a novel delicacy… the first step in a broad culinary shift.”