Grasshopper Pasta: Why insect-based food is the future, and how do western countries adapt?

When we think about insects we have in mind the horrible creature that Kafka described in his Metamorphosis, or the unpleasant “guest” we sometimes host in our kitchens during warm summers. If you go and tell an Italian grandma that soon we will produce pasta with insect flour she would probably have a heart attack. Well, get ready foodies because this is already happening!

It has been scientifically proposed that insect-based food is the future and here is the reason why:

Insects are promoted as an alternative to meat products as a source of protein, and this is based on sustainability arguments. It is a fact that the world population is growing exponentially, and soon agriculture alone won’t be able to provide food for every human being in the planet (Gere et al., 2018) . It is in fact predicted that by 2050, the global population will reach 9.6 billion of people, thus increasing the demand for food by 70%. Given this huge issue, food researchers are investigating novel sources of proteins from plants and from insects.

The phenomenon of eating insects is called ‘Enthomophagy’, and is described as a tool to combat food insecurity and global changes (House, 2016). There are at the moment 2,111 edible insects species. The list of edible insects has been compiled by Ye Jongema, a taxonomist of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and includes beetles, locusts, grasshoppers, dragonflies and many more.

It is indeed recognized that insects contain more proteins than beans and lentils. But food scientists, after having characterized this source of proteins are faced with a problem: how to develop insect based complex food, that will not be met with distaste and disgust from consumers! It is indeed a fact that insects are already widely consumed in Asian and African countries. In Thailand it is stated that 150 insects species are harvested and consumed in the diet as well as in Kenya and Burkina Faso. However, the western countries are less likely to introduce insects in their diet due to food neophobia and the fact that insects are also seen as “starvation food” which is only consumed in times of food shortage (Dobermann et al., 2017).

In the Netherlands scientists are assessing the attractiveness of vegetarian insect-based food by only using a photograph, and have found that people tend to score quite negatively (Gould, 2018). They are however more likely to be attracted to pizza with processed insects than chocolate coated locusts!

The conclusion is that ingredients made from insects are more likely to be accepted rather than the whole insect itself.

Proteinaceous ingredients made from insects could be useful when used as a flour or as a protein source for the production of sauces, gels and foams. However, many studies are ongoing and, even if some nations have already started to sell food items containing insects (i.e. Switzerland), the fight against consumer’s disgust seems to be quite tumultuous, but not impossible.

References:

Dobermann D., Swift J.A., Field L.M. (2017) Opportunities and hurdles of edible insects for food and feed. Nutrition Bullettin (4), 4, 293 – 308.

Gere A., Zemel R., Radváni D., Moskowitz H. (2018). Consumer Response to Insect Foods. Reference Module in Food Science.

Gould J. (2018) Food, Larvae-ly food…Food Science and Technology, 32 (1).

House J. (2016). Consumer acceptance of insect-based foods in the Netherlands: Academic and commercial implications. Appetite (107), 47 – 58.

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