Entomophagy – the eating of insects – is considered to be normal by more than 2bn people worldwide, according to a New Nutrition Business (NNB) report published today (September 23).
There are almost 1,900 edible species of insects worldwide, which are voluntarily consumed by humans because of their taste and nutritious qualities, the report claims.
However, western consumers have struggled to get past the ‘ick factor’ and few European entomophagists enjoy eating insects as a more environmentally friendly alternative to meat, it suggested.
Good taste and sampling
Good taste and sampling could help Europeans overcome their entomophobia suggests Gabi Lewis, who sells protein bars made from cricket flour.
“The biggest key to getting past the preconceived notions about eating insects is to get people to try the bars and learn that they taste delicious,” she remarked.
Any insect-containing food packaging should also avoid making insect references. In the same way, “consumers don’t want to be reminded that they’re eating a cute and cuddly creature when they pick up their leg of lamb from the supermarket,” said the report.
An NNB poll also suggested that consumers were more likely to consider eating insects if they were in certain foods.
Consumers would be more accepting of insects in energy drinks, snack/protein bars, savoury snacks and ready meals, than they would if they were in other products.
Yogurts, soups and desserts were all products consumers said should not contain insects, according to the poll.
Despite a lack of consumer interest, four start-ups have developed bug-based products.
UK-based Ento as well as US-based Don Bugito, Six Foods and Chapul, were launched on the premise that entomophagy would one day be the norm in the west.
“If we shift even a small fraction of our protein consumption to environmentally friendly, healthy insects, we can reduce the huge amount of water which irrigates the massive, mechanised farms which exist solely to feed the 300M head of cattle and 1.4bn pigs mankind slaughters every year,” said Patrick Crowley, founder of Chapul.
Although future insect-based food manufacturers would first have to overcome consumer resistance if entomophagy became more popular they would also eventually have to contend with regulation, predicted the report.
The lack of a legal framework for edible insects in the west would prevent long-term major investment, it said.
“Because eating bugs is so novel – at least in many western countries – it’s not covered by the existing standards and regulations,” the report added.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agricultural Organisation said: “If insects were to become a more widely used ingredient in food and [animal] feed, a risk assessment would need to be carried out and an appropriate framework created.”
An insect framework could include the development of a standard code of practice and quality metrics, it added.