The New Superfood: Can bugs be the food of the future?

By Valeska Schietinger and Silvia Ellena,

Looking for a crunchy snack for your next Netflix binge? How about a bug bagel or a chocolate-covered cricket?

The reaction you might be experiencing right now is the so-called ‘yuck factor’, a feeling of horror and disgust most European people have when it comes to the thought of eating insects.

The Scoop quizzed some students at the University of Groningen about their thoughts on mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers.

It’s clear the opinions are mixed on the topic of insects becoming everyday food.

Over the last few years, edible insects have been brought to the discussion as an alternative to meat consumption.

Today only 10% of the world population eats insects on a regular basis, but looking at the past, it was not an unusual meal.

According to a recently published Greenpeace report, meat and dairy production and its current consumption is unsustainable and contributes to global warming.

FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, lists the advantages of entomophagy, the scientific term for eating insects.

First, entomophagy is environmental-friendly. “If you compare the production of proteins extracted from insects to the ones extracted from beef, insect protein only uses up a tenth of animal feed and significantly less water,” Baris Özel, one of the two founders of Bugfoundation, told The Scoop.

Bugfoundation is a company located in Osnabrück which produces burgers made of mealworms. “The production of beef protein also emits a hundred times more greenhouse gases and consumes about ten times more land,” Özel added.

table insects
FAO, http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf

Also, eating insects is healthy. “Most of the insects are superfood, they always contain a lot of protein, minerals and vitamins” Massimo Reverberi, founder of Bugsolutely told The Scoop. Based in Bangkok, Bugsolutely produces pasta made out of cricket flour.

According to Reverberi, the high level of protein is the reason US companies are beginning to target consumers invested in fitness, by offering cricket energy bars.

insect-protein-chart2
Bugsolutely.com

As beneficial as entomophagy might sound, European laws still complicate the introduction of edible insects to the EU market, despite a new law being introduced last January. As of now, only few countries such as the UK, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands permit production and consumption of insects.

Germany is such country that is only now beginning to follow these earlier examples.

This has benefited companies such as Bugfoundation, who only recently obtained a permit to operate in Germany. “Although the German authorities did not have any concerns on insects as food, the bureaucratic obstacles were significant,” Özel said.

The Netherlands is very active in terms of production. However, because European legislation is so unclear, the country becomes “kind of a grey area, although the market is going well there,” Reverberi explained.

With his company Bugsolutely, Reverberi managed to combine popular European food (pasta) with the unusual concept of eating insects.

“Pasta for me was a no-brainer. It is clearly eaten everywhere,” he said. Also, grinding crickets down makes it easier for people to overcome negative preconceptions, because “eating a whole cricket is too much for most people.”

Bugfoundation has a similar approach to introduce their customers to entomophagy. Not only do they use processed mealworms, but they present them in burger form, because “everybody loves burgers,” said Özel.

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Here in Groningen, it’s possible to experience insect eating first hand. The chain Bagels and Beans offers the Bug Bagel, which is filled with dried crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers.

“It’s a growing market, but we only sell one a week. It’s a funny thing,” PJ van der Veen from Bagels and Beans Groningen told The Scoop. Currently however, insects “are too expensive to make it a success,” as a small jar of insects can cost up to 9 euros.

Once The Scoop discovered there is a place in Groningen where you can try insects, our journalistic responsibility pushed us to overcome our very own ‘yuck factor’.

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The idea of insects as an alternative food source of the future could solve many of the problems the meat industry currently causes.

But looking at the current situation in Europe, poor demand and high production costs might prevent cricket pasta or mealworm burgers from becoming our everyday lunches.

 

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