Bug Out: Why Insects Might Be The Next Superfood

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Has your impact on the environment been bugging you? If you’ve decided greenhouse gasses just aren’t going to fly for you, maybe you should check out edible insects.

All joking aside, entomophagy, or the consumption of insects, is a sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy solution to the ever-impending problem of a growing population and shrinking food supply.

And it’s not uncommon. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at least 2 billion people already eat insects as part of their traditional diet. Western countries are the only cultures who still hold onto the “gross” factor.

Monica Martinez, the founder of the edible insect company Don Bugito, said she confronts this issue often with prospective customers.

“The psychological aspect of putting the insect in your mouth is hard,” she said. “Some people taste it and say, ‘It doesn’t taste like a bug.’ What the hell does a bug taste like? Why isn’t this what a bug is supposed to taste like?”

In fact, Martinez said most people are actually pleasantly surprised by the taste of bugs. She said crickets and other common insects have a crunchy, savory taste.

“There are a lot of comparisons to potato chips or crunchy foods,” she said. “The texture is very friendly.”

Insects are also and incredibly nutritious food source. They’re naturally gluten-free and Paleo-friendly.

Depending on the species, insects can hold incredibly high concentrations of protein. Crickets contain up to 25 percent protein, and some beetles have up to 40 percent. For comparison, beef typically contains up to 25 percent protein. Most insects also contain significant amounts of fiber and natural minerals, like iron.

Edible insects aren’t just nutritious — they’re also good for the environment. By 2050, more than 9 billion people will live on this planet. As the global population increases, food and water scarcity is expected to become more and more common.

When grown as “minilivestock,” insects are raised in a similar way to other farm animals. Contrary to what you might imagine, crickets or other edible insects are raised in small pens and eat a healthy diet of vegetables.

“A lot of people think that insects come from the ground, and they have this association of dirt and soil,” Martinez said. “Once you explain that these guys are from a farm, and that they eat bran and vegetables, people start changing their mind about it.”

Substituting edible insects for even a fraction of other sources of animal protein could have a profound impact on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO. Crickets, mealworms, locusts and other insects produce far fewer greenhouse gasses than either chickens, cattle or pigs.

Because insects are so much smaller than other livestock, they also require far less space. Some species, like mealworms and locusts, also actually prefer to be clustered together in small pens — a trait that sets them apart from almost all other farm animals.

Insects need less food to grow, when compared to other livestock. Crickets are twice as efficient in converting feed to edible meat as chicken, four times more efficient than pigs, and 12 times more efficient than cattle, according to the FAO.

Farming insects also uses much less water than raising traditional livestock, although no exact figures exist as insects have never been farmed on a large, industrial scale. However, experts agree that as water scarcity becomes more common, farming insects is a more sustainable option than cows or pigs. According to the FAO, producing just over 2 pounds of beef requires more than 5,800 gallons of water.

Raising minilivestock like crickets or locusts also carries a significantly lower risk of diseases or infections passing from livestock to humans. Insects are so biologically removed from humans that scientists say it is extremely unlikely a disease like ebola or West Nile virus could spread from cricket, locust or mealworm to human.

Most obviously, eating bugs reduces the amount of insects without the need to use pesticides or insecticides on other crops. Entomophagy is a very simple solution to a very common agricultural problem.

Even if all of these points seem reasonable, we know it can be difficult to wrap your head around munching on a mealworm. Fried insects or cricket-based protein bars might be a good way to dive into this culinary scene.

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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