THIN LEI WIN
Fancy starting your morning with some grub granola? Or having a wrap for lunch made with insect flour? How about ending the day with stir-fried or barbecued crickets for dinner? Despite most people baulking at the idea of eating bugs, such insect-based foods could become ubiquitous in Europe in the next decade or so, according to Lars-Henrik Lau Heckmann, a biologist at the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) in Aarhus.
The DTI is leading the three-year project inVALUABLE, one of Europe’s largest research programmes on industrial-scale production of insects – particularly meal worms – as a more environmentally-friendly food for people and animals. “I believe … young people will find it very natural to make pasta and wok dishes with insects as they today eat sushi,” said Heckmann, standing next to trays of meal worms stacked on top of each other on three metres (10 ft) high metal frames.
Insect farming is a small but growing industry globally with bugs touted as a sustainable and cheap food that is high in protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals, while their cultivation has a much less environmental impact than meat. Environmental groups such as WWF have raised concerns growing demand for animal protein has led to more cultivation of soybeans to feed livestock. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has highlighted that insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, require less land and water – and there are more than 1,900 edible insect species.
Scientists at Massachusetts-based Tufts University said in a paper this week that lab-grown insect meat that fed on plants and genetically modified for maximum growth could be the “ultimate green alternative” for nutrition and flavour to the meat. Michael Bom Frost, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, which is one of the other partners in inVALUABLE, praised the use of meal worms in granola. Despite their name, meal worms are not worms but the larval form of the meal worm beetle that are packed with nutrients which has typically made them a pet food for reptiles, fish and birds . “We use meal worm larvae so the granola is nutty and has this tropical smell, like a cicada on a hot summer night in southern Europe,” Bom Frost told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding pancakes made from meal worm flour were also delicious. He said his students had showcased these products at a local food market and the response had been positive. With predictions that the insect market could grow significantly, it is not just scientists cooking up ways to put meal worm on the menu but also some of the world’s largest food and agricultural companies.
The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF), a lobby group, has forecast that Europe’s insect protein production could surge to 1.2 million tonnes by 2025 from about 5,000 tonnes currently. U.S. agricultural giant Cargill Inc. and McDonald’s Corp are looking at insects as animal feed, while France’s Ynsect – which turns insects into food for fish, pets and plants – recently raised $125 million to build the world’s biggest insect farm. Businesses serving up creative ways to consume insects include a Hong Kong-made DIY home incubator for meal worms, a Belgian beer flavoured with insect protein, Danish energy bars, and pasta from Germany that is 40% cricket. “There are a lot of people that want to try … especially young people,” said Davide Rossi, who runs an online shop selling edible insects in Europe ranging from chili cricket tortilla chips to buffalo worm flour. “I think at some point … you have no choice but to eat these, so better to start now and make them delicious,” added Rossi, whose shop 21bites also accepts payment in bitcoin. Denmark, despite a scant history of eating insects, is aiming to be a leader in this burgeoning industry with inVALUABLE, a 3.7 million euro ($4 million) research project. Other partners involved in the project include enzyme producer Novozymes, equipment manufacturer Hannemann Engineering, and the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark. Jan Vaerum Norgaard, associate professor at Aarhus University’s Department of Animal Science that is also part of inVALUABLE, said meal worms could also boost animal health. “We know that insects have the ability to resist bacterial and fungi diseases … So, feeding the insects to pigs prone to diarrhoea may reduce the bacterial population of those pathogens,” he said. Some researchers warned that despite the potential, there was currently an “overwhelming lack of knowledge” on basic questions of insect farming, such as suitable species, housing and feed requirements, and managing their waste. – Reuters Foundation