Western countries may cringe at the thought of crunching on the exoskeleton of a beetle or adding a plump, cooked larvae as a taco filling, but over 80% of nations around the world add insects regularly to their diet. In Africa, 5-10% of all protein consumed is from the consumption of insects, entomophagy, and along with Asia and Latin America, they are considered a delicacy. Of the 1900 estimated edible insect species, 31% of all insects consumed are beetles. However, many others contribute to nutritional intake including, but not limited to, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers, scale insects, termites, dragonflies and flies.
Insect Nutrition Facts
Nutrition content of insects varies based on preparation and species. The main nutritional components of insects are protein, fat, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Protein: Insect consumption is an easy practice to obtain additional protein. Within 100-gram servings, certain species have a comparable protein content to beef (19-26g), tilapia (16-19g) and shrimp (13-27g) such as grasshoppers and locusts which contain 13-28 grams per serving and mealworm larvae which contains 14-25 grams per serving. Chapulines, a species of grasshopper can provide up to 48 grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
Amino Acids: Animal products are superior to plant products in their amino acid content. Due to high worldwide wheat consumption, many people have diets low in lysine, an essential amino acid. Caterpillars are high in lysine which can be a helpful amino acid supplement.
Fat: Insects have a lower amount of total fat than beef, but a higher amount of healthy, polyunsaturated fats. While beef is high in saturated fatty acids, palmitoleic, palmitic and stearic, mealworms are higher in essential linoleic acids, also known as omega-3 and omega-6.
Fiber: The main source of fiber from insects is chitin, obtained from their exoskeleton.
Vitamins: Riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and in some folic acid. Mealworm larvae and crickets contain B12, a vitamin only found in animal sources, but more research is needed to find insects with higher quantities.
Minerals: American adolescence and females consume an inadequate amount of iron, which is rich in insect sources. Compared by weight, insect larvae contains more than double the amount of zinc than beef. They also have comparable values of copper, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium and selenium.
Forms of Consumption
I have not yet seen these insects in local grocery stores, but large databases are available online. Insects are now being processed into convenient forms for consumption. Once cooked and dried, insects are blended into a small particle sized protein powder available in cricket, silkworm, locust and even scorpion. This can then be conveniently used as a flour substitute in breads and cookies, added to protein shakes or made into protein bars. Yellow mealworms are even used as an enrichment ingredient, adding protein and nutrients to tortillas in Mexico. Companies have already started selling cricket powders in a variety of flavors, readily created and packaged into a nutrition bar with 10 grams of protein, marketed as a gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free, dairy-free bar. These insects aren’t just limited to powder, if bought in bulk, they are dehydrated and freeze dried. They can be ordered canned and seasoned or chocolate coated for a nutrient-rich dessert.
The commercial production of insects could be the future of food as we know it. It is a fact that the human population is increasing day by day. We are looking for more innovative, sustainable solutions to feed the global population. Insect consumption may be the answer to filling nutritional gaps in the diet while reducing land and water use and supporting the environment.
Arnold van Huis, Joost Van Itterbeeck, Harmke Klunder, Esther Mertens, Afton Halloran, Giulia Muir and Paul Vantomme. Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2013. Access: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf