When you’re looking for a bite-sized snack, what could be better than a tiny, crunchable bug? Probably a lot in my personal opinion, but let’s dive into this crunchy topic anyway. I have never eaten one, but let’s set aside our biases and take this walk down “Ew, That’s Gross Road” together.
Entomophagy. A word you’ve probably heard about as many times as you’ve actually considered eating insects. It is defined as “the human use of insects as food,” and has been a part of human life since our early ancestors traversed the land with stone tools and is still part of many lives today. It could also be a solution to world hunger for the future.
In fact, there are over a 1,000 species of insects that are eaten in 80% of the world’s countries, with around 3,000 ethnic groups known to eat insects. Despite its lack of popularity in North America, entomophagy has been seriously suggested as an alternative to the traditional livestock we eat, which cause serious damage to our environment.
Still not convinced? I’m not sure I’m convinced to pop a fried grasshopper or sautéed meal worm into my mouth either, but let’s keep going and see where this research leads us.
A report released from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found that there are at least 1,900 edible insects, and around 2 billion people already engage in the eating of the crunchable critters. They are also a good source of fiber, protein, good fats, and vital minerals, and require less resources to farm than traditional livestock, which saves precious resources on an overpopulated Earth. Eating more of them might also lower the demand for using pesticides and create jobs in an emerging market here and elsewhere in the world where they tasty creepy crawlies live.
We have all heard that the methane released from cow flatulence is wreaking havoc on our atmosphere as methane is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases, speeding up the process of climate change. So, less gassy and fewer resources to convert food into protein, already a couple of positives for eating bugs. How about nutrition and taste?
For starters, mealworms, which can be found all over the world (and in pet stores), have protein content, vitamins, and minerals that are similar to what can be found in fish meat. Grasshoppers are on par with ground beef for protein content and have less fat per gram.
So, they can be healthy, and, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s all just molecules of protein, right? If you can eat the meat of an animal that rolls around in mud and feces, such as a pig, why not eat a lovely, hoppy grasshopper?
As far as flavor profiles go, there is a lot of variety to choose from as you can imagine. Beetles are one of the most common insects on earth and are high in protein, think of it like eating a crunchy gusher?
While we might not like the idea of eating beautiful butterflies or moths, their larvae are high in iron and protein and are popular in many African countries, especially as a nutritional supplement for children and pregnant women. Bee and wasp larvae are thought to taste like peanuts, almonds, or pine nuts, yum!
Some of the smaller insects might take a lot to make a meal, but their rapid lifecycle makes this more practical. For instance, 100 grams of ants contains more protein than the same amount of eggs as well as iron, calcium, and more, and if you are on a low-carb diet they are said to be great for achieving that slim-figure you’re looking for.
Grasshoppers and crickets are by far the most popular edible insects, and chocolate covered crickets have even started becoming a more common treat here in the United States. I even had a friend recently buy some for my daughter on her 5th birthday. Both she and her cousin voraciously devoured them, comparing the taste to chocolate covered raisins. They are apparently great for cooking with sauces as they pick up a lot of flavor, and in countries where they destroy crops, eating them could also cut down on agricultural devastation. Win-win. Let’s eat these jumpy lil pests. I’m getting more on board with this, if only for vengeance.
There are also a variety of things you may not have thought about eating such as stinkbugs, which apparently add an apple flavor to whatever dish you are adding them to, and they are an invasive species so it’ll do good for the local environment in Northwest Indiana and beyond. One of the stranger things individuals devour are the eggs of water bugs, which are consumed as a kind of insect caviar. Flies and mosquitos are also an option, with many flies apparently taking on the flavor of their food of choice. So, feed some flies some cheese and pair it with a fine, aged wine.
There you have it. We made it through. I’m not sure if I’m going to be eating any mealworm curry any time soon, but I am certainly more convinced than ever that it would be beneficial for the species and the planet. I’m going to wait and see if this thing catches on first before I start picking grasshopper legs out of my teeth with a toothpick, but maybe one day soon I will join my daughter in chomping on some chocolate-covered crickets.