Why Eat Insects?

Everything you need to know about eating insects
What is the definition of entomophagy?

Entomophagy (pronounced en-toe-moff-a-gee) is the practice of eating insects by humans.

Who eats insects?

Even if you don’t think that you want to veer into the world of entomophagy, we’ve got news for you: you already have! On average, you eat 500g of insects each year in products such as pasta, cakes and bread. It is just not worth the energy to remove every fragment of insect when harvesting crops. Like chocolate? Well, you may be eating up to 60 fragments of insects in every 100g of chocolate and, whenever you eat a fig, you are eating remnants of the fig wasp that pollinated it.

 

But, casual entomophagy aside, over 2 billion people around the world eat insects regularly (and on purpose) – those who don’t are the odd ones out! Edible insects are a staple part of the diet in 80% of the worlds countries. Deep fried locusts are an everyday delicacy in countries such as Thailand, while chapulines (Mexican red grasshoppers) are a favourite snack in South America. The West is slowly waking up to insects as a sustainable food source with entomophagy becoming a hot topic in popular culture. Countries such the Netherlands and America are currently at the forefront of the modern entomophagy revolution, but we want Wales to become the new home of edible insects!

Why do people eat insects?

Without wanting to sound morose, we simply cannot continue to eat the way that we do today. In 2013, a report was published by the UN FAO urging us in the West to adopt the practice of eating insects as a sustainable food source.

 

By 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth and, to feed them all, we will require 70% more food, 120% more water and 42% more crop land. By 2050 meat production is predicted to double and, to meet current environmental targets, impacts of livestock on the environment will need to halve compared to what they are today.

 

There is a global need for alternative protein sources, and insects are packed full of the stuff! In addition, insects may contain function oils, such as omega-3 fatty acids including linoleic acid (LA), alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and lauric acid, which could reduce our reliance on often unsustainable fish oils.

 

Insects are significantly more sustainable to farm than other livestock (see above). As well as entomophagy being good for the environment, the nutritional and health benefits are numerous (see above). And, above all, edible insects can taste delicious!

What do insects taste like?

There are more than 2,000 known species of edible insect, offering an Aladdin’s Cave of flavours and textures, especially when they are combined with other ingredients (they taste even better if a top chef like Andy cooks them for you). Most insects taste neither sweet nor savoury, so can be used in a variety of dishes. We think that crickets taste subtle, malty and slightly nutty, while yellow mealworms taste like puffed rice infused with bran! Buffalo worms taste even more subtle than their cousins, the yellow mealworms, while locusts taste a little like prawns. If you want flavour that packs a punch, then opt for black ants (think zingy, lemony Marmite) or go for a pack of chapulines seasoned with chilli! For recipe ideas, have a look at Andy’s recipe suggestions.

How does entomophagy help the environment?

Conventional livestock production is land and water thirsty. 30% of the earth’s land mass is taken up by livestock (including grazing land and land used to grow feed crops) and livestock consume 8% of all water usage mediated by humans!

 

Relying on cheap, intensively farmed meat for protein comes at a drastic cost to our environment in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, chemical usage and water pollution. Livestock farming is responsible for 18% of all GHG emissions and the rising issue of antibiotic (and other chemical) resistance in agriculture is now a global issue as we try to push our livestock to grow more quickly in smaller spaces.

 

This is why we need additional, alternative protein sources with lower environmental costs. While eating more plant protein is one obvious solution, plants do not contain heme iron (which can be readily absorbed by our bodies) and many plant proteins are low in vital nutrients such as iodine and omega-3 fatty acids (especially alpha-linoleic acid). Bring on the insects!

 

Many insects breed quickly and require very little space, or water. This makes farming them extremely efficient. For example, it takes about 22,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef whereas it takes just 1-10 litres of water to produce 1kg of edible insect protein…and they release 99% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cattle when doing it! To produce the equivalent amount of protein, some insects require 12-25 times less feed when compared to cattle and half the feed compared to chickens. They also take up one tenth of the land area compared to cattle when turning that feed into edible protein.

Can I collect insects from the wild and eat them?

No – please don’t! Insects in the wild may have been exposed to pesticides which you really don’t want to eat! Also, many insect species are pretty tricky to tell apart so you may accidentally collect a rare species and you don’t want cause a local extinction! Also, please don’t eat insects sold in pet shops, as they may contain growth hormones which can be really bad for you.

Which insects are the most sustainable to eat?

Not all invertebrates are sustainable to eat. We suggest that you keep away from those species that breed slowly and have few offspring. For example, while tarantulas are eaten traditionally in some parts of the world, we wouldn’t advise snacking on them here. Most tarantulas take years to reach sexual maturity and, in the wild, produce few offspring that survive to adulthood. We have a pet tarantula called Rosie and she can live up to 40 years…she grows s…l…o…w…l…y! If you are eating insects because you want to eat more sustainably, it’s best to stick to farmed species, in particular buffalo worms, mealworms and crickets. Always ask the supplier if your insects are farmed or wild-caught and ask them for sustainably credentials.

How are insects farmed?

Our farmed insects are bred in state of the art, high-welfare insect farms. Conditions are controlled to ensure optimum growth rates and animal welfare. They are fed on vegetables which are discarded by us picky humans for being too small or too bumpy! Depending on the species, their diets are often supplemented with left-over scrumptious morsels from the brewing industry the outside husks of oats and wheat, or juicy, green cabbages!

Where do you source your insects from?

We source our insects from Europe where possible. Most of our insects are farmed in the Netherlands. We do source some of our insects from outside of Europe at the moment while we build the industry here, or where we feel that certain species can be farmed more sustainably elsewhere (i.e. where it is warmer). All of our insects are farmed in human food grade facilities, or are sustainably harvested and come to us complete with their CVED certification.

 

We hope to be able to source all of our insects from within Europe (ideally from within the UK) within the next five years.

How are insects killed?

Insects are animals and therefore we believe that, like any farmed animal, they should be treated with respect, with their welfare of utmost importance.

 

We do not condone eating insects, or any other invertebrates, alive. Our insects are killed ethically by freezing. This causes their bodily functions to slowly shut down, as they would in response to cold weather. In the wild, they would wake up with a rise in temperature. However, if they are held at a low temperature for a long period, they simply do not wake up again.

What is the legislation in the UK on eating and farming insects?

The rules and regulations surrounding farming and eating insects in the UK and Europe often appear confusing. Insects are classed as novel foods in Europe despite the fact that at least 2 billion people across the world eat insects every day as part of their regular diet!

 

Insects are legislated in Europe under the Novel Food Directive (EU 2015/2283, which replaced EC Regulation 258/97 and EU Commission Recommendation 97/618/EC). Insects are included under category ‘E’. Insect species included in products will require Novel Foods dossiers as of 1st January 2018. There will then be a two-year transition period (until January 2020) when it is possible to produce, and supply, insects and food made with insects that have been supplied prior to January 2018.

What allergens do edible insects contain?

Insects are arthropods, as are crustaceans and dust mites. Therefore, if you are allergic to crustaceans or dust mites, it is best to avoid insects. Also, insects are often fed on wheat bran, so many insects contain gluten. Always check the label before tucking in!

Are insects vegan or vegetarian?

Insects are animals, so are not classed as vegan or vegetarian. However, we have found that over 70% of people who would class themselves as vegan or vegetarian will happily eat insects. This is because: (1) they are an extremely environmentally sustainable source of digestible protein and (2) they can be farmed and killed ethically.