Image Credit: Privat

Insect meat. The new beef?

Why insect meat will be the meat of the future.

April 30, 2016

The idea of making insect meat part of our daily diet may take some getting used to in Western cultures, but it’s not as radical as you think. Most of us already consume about 500g of insect meat or products every year, without having the slightest clue about it. So, next time you take that Aspirin after a long night out or snack on a peanut butter sandwich, keep in mind that you will be adding to that number.

Insects are vast. Their numbers are beyond measure and although very few of them are actually dangerous to us, many look at them in horror and with disgust.

And we continue on that path, despite a global population that’s growing at an alarming rate. Based on a recent report by the United Nations, the world population is expected to grow by 38% from 6.9 billion people in 2010 to a staggering 9.6 billion in 2050. Trying to meet this stepped up demand for protein, using traditional livestock, will be an uphill battle and a shortcut to an ecological disaster.

Image Credit: Ento, Karl Mohr

Edible insects may offer a workable and much-needed way out of this dilemma. They are already part of the daily diet in many Asian cultures and of as many as 2 billion people. With more than 1,900 insect species considered to be edible, they are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. And insect meat contains much higher concentrations than traditional red or white meat. Moreover, farming insects for food is much more efficient than raising traditional livestock. Crickets, for instance, convert 2 kg of feed into 1 kg of bodyweight increase. Try that with cattle or pigs and you will be looking at a 10:1 conversion rate. Insect farming also emits fewer greenhouse gases, ammonia and manure, and pose less of a risk of becoming a breading ground for diseases that can be transmitted to humans, traditional livestock or wildlife.

Image Credit: Ento, Karl Mohr

So, making insects part of our daily diet really seems like a no brainer. Beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leaf hoppers, and termites can potentially be turned into healthy and delectable food, if we manage to overcome the horror and disgust we often harbor for these animals. Processing their meat may be helpful in accomplishing that. On the other hand, who of us would pass up an elegant shrimp cocktail, pan seared tiger prawns or mini lobster, despite these animals bearing a striking resemblance with locusts or cockroaches? It may be just a matter of time that we Westerners overcome this cultural taboo as well.

Especially, if dishes containing insect meat would look like this:

Image Credit: Noma Restaurant, Privat

Noma is a two-Michelin Star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. The restaurant is run by world-renowned chef, René Redzepi and has been ranked “The Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant Magazine in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Noma also operates its own test kitchen , where chef Thomas Frebel routinely experiments with novel cooking techniques and exotic ingredients.

The image above shows “Picnic in the Forest”, a dish that contains a few hand-collected forest ants. Other ingredients include a very thin slice of grilled bread, blueberry jelly, dried porcini mushroom cubes, a slice of blueberry sorbet, juniper ice cream, spruce shoots, lemon, thyme, forest clover, and monk’s cress.

Taking the idea even further is Ento. Ento is an innovative start-up, based in London, aiming to build acceptance of insects as tasty, nutritious and sustainable food in Western cultures. The idea was conceived and realized by Julene Aguirre-Bielschowsky, Jon Fraser, Jacky Chung, Aran Dasan, and Xenia von Oswald, who all met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. This team of entrepreneurs has received the UK’s Most Innovative Business Award in 2013. They have also been featured in various publications and on the Grey Goose Iconoclasts of Taste Project in 2013.

Image Credit: Ento

So, what’s the takeaway?

Once we are able to overcome the cultural taboo, insect meat could become a unique source of tasty, healthy and sustainable food. Insects won’t resolve all issues concerning food supply and food safety, but they can and need to be part of the solution.

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