Love bug salad
Would you like a bowl of scorpion soup? How about a mixed locust salad with bee crème brûlée for dessert?
It may not sound like the most appetizing of prospects but the European Union thinks all these could soon be on the menu.
Experts in Brussels believe insects and other creepy crawlies could be a vital source of nutrition which will not only solve food shortages but also help save the environment.
They have launched a three million euro (£2.65 million) project to promote the eating of insects while also asking national watchdogs like the UK’s Food Standards Agency to investigate the issue.
Proponents of entomophagy – insect eating – argue that bugs are a low-cholesterol, low-fat protein food source.
According to one study, small grasshoppers offer 20 per cent protein and just six per cent fat, to lean ground beef’s 24 per cent protein and 18 per cent fat.
Crickets are also said to be high in calcium, termites rich in iron, and a helping of giant silkworm moth larvae apparently provides all the daily copper and riboflavin requirements. There are even claims that bees boost the libido.
Insects emit less greenhouse gases than cattle and require less feed, supposedly making them environmentally-friendly. And supporters claim they could help feed the world, because they are so abundant they provide at least 200kg of biomass for every human.
The European Commission is offering the money to the research institute with the best proposal for investigating “Insects as novel sources of proteins”.
It has asked for research into quality and safety, including potential allergic reactions and the precise sort of proteins consumed.
Professor Marcel Dicke, leading a team at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, which is applying for the research grant, said: “By 2020, you will be buying insects in supermarkets. We will be amazed that in 2011 people didn’t think it was going to happen.
“We have already seen the introduction of eggplants, sushi, things people never ate here. I think it will start with ground-up insects in sauces and burgers. Grinding them up will make them look more palatable.”
He said bugs were biologically similar to shellfish and that flying insects should be regarded as “shrimps of the sky”.
“Old sources of protein will be insufficient to feed the growing world population,” he added. “The price of regular meat will soar. The EU must invest in food security.”
However, Stuart Hine, a senior entomologist at the Natural History Museum, said insects still may not solve all problems.
It would be costly to heat a British warehouse full of locusts, and insect diseases can spread rapidly enough to kill a farm’s entire stock in a day.
“Insects are fantastic, but they aren’t the ultimate solution if the world desperately needs food. We would turn to something more efficient – like huge vats of nematode worms.”
He also cautioned that they were best eaten cooked, because of the germs they might contain.
“Surviving on insects when you can’t cook them is one thing; but most cultures who eat insects, cook them,” he added.
In addition to the research project, the EU is also asking national watchdogs including the UK Foods Standards Agency to investigate current insect-eating habits to decide which, if any, bugs will need safety assessments.
This follows the recent emergence in the UK of a very niche market in edible insects, prompted in part by the television series, I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of here! in which contestants eat unpalatable “bushtucker” meals.
Todd Dalton, of Edible, which supplies insects for human consumption to Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, said the EU interest in the area was unlikely to help.
“The EU is wasting taxpayers’ money. People aren’t suddenly going to start eating insects because the EU is spending money researching. It would be great if they did, but our eating habits won’t change until our stigma about consuming insects is removed.”
Previous attempts to achieve this have failed. In 1885 the Victorian writer Vincent Holt wrote a book suggesting the rural poor try recipes such as woodlouse sauce. It did not catch on.
Those enjoying their Sunday lunch today may also wish to consider that some studies found so many insect fragments slip into food that we eat the equivalent of 500g of bugs per person, per year.
Photo credit: Square Meal