Food of the Future: Insects

Food of the Future: Insects

The Earth is a planet of insects in which human beings also live. It is estimated that there are between 200 million and 2 billion for each individual. 80% of the animals belong to this species, and if each one weighed a milligram (the figure that usually reaches a small ant), there would be between  200 and 2,000 kilos of bugs per inhabitant.

It is not surprising that, given the forecasts for population growth, the food industry and the authorities (like FAO itself ) have set their sights on the nutritional possibilities that insects offer. They are much more efficient than any other species when it comes to converting plant products into animals, but they also use fewer resources, produce less polluting emissions, generate a smaller number of waste, and are cheaper.

It is estimated that each inhabitant of the Western world can consume, without knowing it, about half a kilo of insects per year.

The European regulation on new foods that have entered into force on January 1 has opened the market for insects for human consumption. There is, however, an important condition for worms, grasshoppers, and ants to become common dishes in our continent: although it is common to ingest animals that resemble their physiognomy, such as prawns or certain types of eels, today Insects generate an undoubted rejection.

You are already taking them 

Some paleontological studies have shown that they were already in the regimes of primitive man. The bugs have not been alien to the  Judeo-Christian tradition. In Leviticus (11:22), it is pointed out that all kinds of lobsters, crickets, and grasshoppers can be eaten, although, paradoxically, in Deuteronomy (14:19), it is warned that “every winged insect will be unclean, it will not be eaten.”

If birds, mice, apes, and other carnivorous and omnivorous animals turn to them, why can’t we do it? The question is too much. In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, its consumption is not strange. Chapulines are a specialty of Mexican cuisine, in Korea, the chrysalis of the silkworm are boiled and taken as an appetizer (bondage), while in Africa termites are prepared with very different techniques, according to the customs of each country. 

But it is not necessary to move far in space or time. The reality is that even if you are vegan or vegetarian, you are eating insects without probably knowing it. It is not uncommon for apples to house a worm that becomes invisible when the fruit is processed to make juice or jam. The same goes for tomato sauce, flour, crushed coffee, and a long list of foods. 

The authorities admit this fact and establish limits at the same time. In the United States, it is accepted, for example, that chocolate can contain up to sixty pieces of insect per 100 grams or five fruit flies for every 250 milliliters of juice. More evidence? If in any processed product you find as ingredient ‘NR4’, ‘E120’, or ‘carmine,’ you will be ingesting a dye that is extracted from the cochineal. For reasons such as those mentioned, it is estimated that each inhabitant of the western world can consume about half a kilo of insects per year.

How is this prepared?

From our perspective, insects are a completely new product, so there are many doubts about how they should be peeled, cut, cooked, or preserved. The situation, however, does not seem different from what occurred when other foods from other latitudes such as soybeans or quinoa were incorporated into our tables. The solution is to review how these foods are cooked in countries where they have been prepared for centuries. The most obvious example of reference is that of sushi, which in a few years, went from generating rejection because it was made with raw fish to become a culinary trend in younger generations.

It is not really clear if a large-scale production would be more sustainable than current livestock farms.

According to the strategy of the food companies, it seems that the consumption of crickets, worms or grasshoppers will be carried out in a first phase through processed products to which they are added as a protein supplement. There are already drinks, bread, pasta, meatballs, hamburgers, energy bars or sauces that have bugs as the main claim. Also, the first online stores specializing in their sales begin to appear.

The uncertainty about the viability

But there are also critical voices that warn about some common places that are being assumed unjustifiably: “There is not enough known about the environmental impact of insect exploitation, which seems to be much more complex than what they tell us. For example, nursery insects may need a substrate whose sustainability is not so affordable, as evidenced by the example of the giant water bug in Thailand, which requires additional resources because of the amphibians it feeds on,” they say.

 The authors of the book ‘On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories, and Recipes.’ “The same applies to the most common insects, which tend to be fed with grain and which can increase the environmental repercussions, so  large-scale production may not be more sustainable than that of conventional proteins.”

Another reality that cannot be overlooked is that, as with other animals, in some parts of the planet, insect populations are being decimated. In a study published recently by the Entomological Society Krefeld, it has been shown that insects have been reduced by more than 75% between 1989 and 2016 in a country like Germany, also taking into account that the samples were taken in protected areas such as natural reserves. The mistreatment of the planet has been devastating for elephants or coral reefs, but it seems that flies, moths or beetles have also suffered the repercussions. The legal and industrial structure for insects to start commercializing is already created, but the question of whether they will really be our main source of protein in the future is still moving in a still speculative field.

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