A UBC expert makes the case for eating insects
UBC Land and Food Systems researcher Yasmin Akhtar says bugs are nutritious, sustainable and delicious. At an insect-tasting event and lecture September 26, she’ll serve up crickets and other bugs that she says aren’t hard to swallow.
Why should we eat insects?
There are so many advantages to eating bugs, one of them being they are so plentiful. They can thrive in different types of environments and extreme conditions. To date, about 1 million species of insects have been identified, and it’s estimated that about 5 to 6 million species have not been identified yet. Approximately 1,500 species of insects are considered edible (0.15 per cent of known species), but far more must be edible. They can provide food to everyone.
Insects are also highly nutritious. They are higher in protein, iron, and other nutrients than beef. Their food conversion efficiencies are also much higher than animals, and they require less feed and space. Crickets, for example, require 12 times less feed and 13 times less water than cattle to produce the same amount of edible protein. They can be farmed on a larger scale without damaging the environment. Compared to mealworms, a pig produces between 10 and 100 times as much greenhouse gas per kilogram.
What regions of the world eat insects?
Insects have been a food source for people for tens of thousands of years, all over the planet. Although popular in many developing regions of the world, including Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, using insects as food is still very rare in the developed world.
An aversion to eating insects is strictly cultural in origin. There’s a negative perception toward bugs; they are considered pests, vectors of diseases, annoying and creepy. But in blind tastings, most people enjoy the flavour and texture of insects, if properly prepared.
In fact, people don’t realize that they eat bugs unknowingly all the time. Fruits and vegetables contain insect parts or whole insects. Fig paste can harbour up to 13 insect heads in 100 grams; canned fruit juices can contain a maggot for every 250 millilitres; 10 grams of hops can be the home for 2,500 aphid; and frozen broccoli can contain 60 or more aphids or thrips per 100 grams—and these numbers are permissible by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
How do they taste?
They have a bit of a nutty flavour, especially when they are roasted. Ants are crunchy, and they have a lemony sourness, which could be because of the formic acid they contain. Crickets taste like nutty shrimp. Some stinkbugs have an apple flavour, and some worms are spicy. Bee larvae sautéed with butter and honey taste like bacon. I have also heard that fried silkworms taste like eggs.
How can people get over their squeamishness about eating bugs?
They need to be aware of their benefits. People have to understand that there will be a time later on when there will be a shortage of food, so they will have to rely on other sources. They should know that insects could contribute to a more sustainable source of protein and serve as an alternative to meat. Insects hold promise as a sustainable food source, and they may be a solution to world hunger in an economically sound and environmentally friendly manner.
Yasmin Akhtar’s lecture and tasting, Bugs: Sustainable Food, takes place Sep. 26 at 2 p.m. in Vij’s Kitchen at UBC’s Food, Nutrition and Health Building, 2205 East Mall.