Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Focus

It's time to eat insects for the good of the planet, say experts

  • 'Prawns of the sky' (Photo: Rampant Gian)

"The European consumer has some difficulties in crunching a whole insect", says Professor Arnold Van Huis, capturing in one dry sentence the gamut of faint distaste to full-on revulsion that many Europeans feel about the idea of snacking on their local grasshopper.

Potential squeamishness aside though, the Dutch academic believes insects are the sustainable, healthy and environment friendly foods of the future.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"There are so many benefits to the eating of insects compared to conventional livestock, and, nutritionally, insects are exactly the same as conventional meat", he tells EUobserver.

Insects contain more protein per mouthful than beef, are low in fat, high in vitamin B and rearing them causes much less damage to the environment than cows, sheep and pigs.

At the moment, the issue of whether we can sustain the European population on insects remains academic, or, at the very least, one for the culinary adventurous.

But Van Huis believes that rising food prices, coupled with still further huge increases in the world population and the corresponding search for yet more farm land means "people are really looking for alternatives".

There are about 1,800 edible insects in the world. But for "scaling up" it has to be possible to raise the insects easily, which leaves mealworms - the larvae of darkling beetles - crickets and locusts.

This is where Marian Peters comes in. A Dutch entrepreneur with a background in economics and agriculture she saw a gap in the market for struggling Dutch farmers to rear insects. She set up Venik, the Dutch insect breeders association, which now has about 16 registered members.

Peters is also involved in stocking Sligro, a Dutch food wholesaler that caters to restaurants, with freeze-dried locusts and mealworms and has developed a muesli bar containing ground up mealworms.

Along with Van Huis, she is at the vanguard of the insect-as-food movement, so much so that when she first went to the Dutch agricultural ministry looking for research money, they couldn't categorise her.

"I wasn't a cow, I wasn't a fish, I wasn't a chicken," she laughs.

Now the ministry is providing Van Huis - with whom Peters collaborates - and his team of four PhD students with €1 million for research focussed on extracting protein from insects. This is something of a holy grail for Van Huis as it would give all of the goodness of insect protein without the off-putting exoskeleton visuals.

The ministry is also funding research into raising insects on edible food waste, such as the skin of soybeans.

For her part, Peters reckons the novice insect-eater should start off with insects in a wok with rice and soya sauce, with garlic, pepper and salt: "This is really good".

Insects taste "nutty" by all accounts. And there is much to be said about the texture too. Freeze-dried locusts, for example, are "crunchy like popcorn", says Peters but when you buy them fresh "they also have a good bite, but it is more like wheat".

But she says that often the easiest way people can bring themselves to overcome the 'yuck' factor is when they hear about how damaging livestock rearing is for the environment.

Our taste for beef sees land gobbled up to grow grain to feed the cattle, vast amounts of water expended (over 10 gallons is needed to produce around two pounds of beef) and the atmosphere warmed through their methane burps. Mealworms, by contrast, generate up to 100 times less greenhouse gases than pigs.

It is all about overcoming preconceptions according to Van Huis. After all, we are generally perfectly happy to sit down to eat prawns and shrimps, oysters and snails. Locusts are merely "prawns of the sky".

He works with a team of scientists at Wageningen University, a sort of food silicon valley in the Netherlands, to come up with appetising insect recipes. One that goes down well is mealworm quiche.

But we are well behind much of the rest of the world when it comes to eating insects. Caterpillars, grubs grasshopper, ants and the like are part of the diet or even a delicacy for many people in Africa, Asia and South America.

Nevertheless, there is already a market for creepy-crawlies it seems. Daniel Creedon, chef at London's Archipelago Restaurant, serves chocolate-covered scorpions ("they're quite fun"), cream custard brulee with a bee on top and a side salad of stir-fried locusts and crickets - the 'love bug salad' - as part of a deliberately eclectic menu.

"I would say half of our customers have insects of some sort while they are here," says the award-winning chef, adding of this website's inevitable taste question: "It's incredibly hard to describe the taste, because it tastes like insects, which really don't taste like anything else."

Nanofoods - Coming to a plate near you?

Chocolate that doesn't make you fat. Drinks designed by the press of a button. 'Meat' made from plant protein. Welcome to nanofoods - a brave new world that industry is keen to exploit. But will Europeans ever take to it?

European Food

Europeans’ relationship with food is getting increasingly complicated. Other regions in the world are competing for the same produce, extreme weather is affecting harvests and driving up food prices. Experts question whether we can blithely continue to consume as we currently do. But changing food habits – a product of cultural, sociological, economic and ideological factors – is likely to be tough. EUobserver analyses the latest food trends in its September Focus section.

South Africa is the most European of 'new world' wine makers

Founded by Dutch colonists and improved by Huguenots fleeing from France, South African wine-making is proud of its European heritage. In the past two decades, its wines have become best-sellers in places like Scandinavia and Great Britain.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy