- Eating insects such as crickets and mealworms is common in many parts of the world except the West.
- One Thai restaurant is popularly known for processing crickets into meals that appear more appealing.
- Insects are high in protein, have a host of beneficial vitamins, and also help to reduce carbon emissions.
Insect ramen, queen ant egg tostada, mealworm soup, bug tapas, black ant guacamole - these are some of the world’s most upscale insect delicacies. And they could soon form part of your weekly meal plans.
The human population is expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050, putting huge pressure on traditional animal farming. Current food production will need to almost double to accommodate this number. But land is scarce, and agricultural activities from crops and livestock production contribute significantly to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions.
Could the solution to climate-conscious cooking be consuming more insects? One restaurant in Thailand is taking this mission seriously.
Bounce Burger, a pop-up restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, has made headlines for its popular crunch-less cricket burgers, sausage and cricket cookies.
READ MORE | Could eating crickets boost your health?
Poopipat Thiapairat, owner of Bounce Burger, tells AFP that the restaurant removes certain body parts for easier eating.
“The problem with crickets is that they get stuck in your throat. The chitin parts of the crickets, like legs and wings, make them hard to swallow, so we came to the idea that we should take off these parts and use only the body of the crickets.”
Thiapairat says it’s the same concept as beef or pork, where we don’t consume the bones.
Kristen Matak, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at West Virginia University, previously explained that the global demand for sustainable sources of protein had created a shift from traditional sources, such as meat, to other sources that were otherwise overlooked.
"Edible insects and insect flours are promising as meat alternatives because they are typically rich in protein and contain all of the essential amino acids," said Matak. And to make eating a variety of insects more appealing, she suggested turning the insects into powder, similar to how we already process grains into flour to make them more edible.
Fighting climate change
Unfortunately, meat consumption presents an enormous environmental problem: while cows and pigs are good sources of protein, they also contribute to the heat-trapping gases, carbon dioxide and methane, Science magazine explains.
But one way we can reduce such emissions - while maintaining a nutritious diet - is to eat less meat and more cricket- and mealworm-infused foods. A 2011 study found that many insect species emit fewer greenhouse gases than their beefier counterparts, while a 2017 study found that chicken production in Thailand was associated with 89% higher greenhouse gas emissions than crickets.
Cricket farming has a low environmental impact, Thanaphum Muang-Ieam, managing director at Bricket R&D Cricket Farm, tells AFP. Thanaphum also told Africa News that the insects don’t have to be limited to street vendors who commonly sell it with a side of soya sauce.
Thailand has thousands of insect farms, and Bricket R&D Cricket Farm supplies 160 kilograms of crickets every month directly to Bounce Burgers, he says.
The insect market
According to AFP, the protein-rich insect market is a growing billion-dollar global industry. The Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa are some of the dominant insect-eating countries, according to two African researchers. The most commonly consumed insects include crickets, caterpillars, termites and palm weevils.
In a 2017 article published by The Conversation, they noted that “eating insects is as old as mankind.” Globally, 2 billion people consume insects. This practice is known as entomophagy and is more common in Africa than anywhere else in the world, they wrote.
The majority of the world’s population already consumes insects, and Western cultures make up the 20% that do not, said Jacek Jaczynski, professor of food science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University. Insect protein can also be harvested much faster than a cow or pig, for example, and needs less land and water usage.
The authors of a 2021 paper also note that “there is an urgent need for alternative nutrient sources, and edible insects are promising and [a] potential choice.”
According to Jaczynski, the harvest cycle for insects is generally 45 days - much shorter than four to 36 months for traditional farm animals. Insects also have a short lifespan, rapidly reproduce, and require simple habitat and nutritional requirements. More than 2 000 species of insects have already been identified as safe for human consumption, he says.
Dennis Oonincx, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who previously researched greenhouse gas emissions from insects, told Science Magazine that mealworms were great in a quiche but that he preferred house crickets: "The structure and flavour are best."