Crickets and beetles and caterpillars, oh my! It may be farfetched to think insects could become the next favorite ballpark snack, but they certainly offer some surprising benefits. Do you think they’re worth a try?
🦗🐛🐜When we think of eating bugs, we may imagine crunching on a sizzling beetle from an open-air market in Thailand with Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods. Or perhaps eating bug larvae as a last ditch scavenge for food on an episode of Survivor. Or even as a challenge on Fear Factor. There’s a crunch and an ooey gooeyness that sends a chill right up our spines.
While the Western world may reject it, almost 2 billion people worldwide eat bugs on a regular basis—that is more than 25 percent of the world’s population. And they don’t think it’s gross at all.
In fact, there are more benefits to eating insects than some people realize!
Positive Environmental Impact
It takes over 2000 gallons of water and 10 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of beef. To produce 1 pound of insects, it takes less than 12 gallons of water and less than 2 pounds of feed. Not to mention the amount of land livestock need compared to insects.
Insects are an excellent and viable source of high biological value (HBV) protein, antioxidants, and polyunsaturated fats. Their nutritional content is unique to the insect and to what the insect eats.
Those with an allergy to other arthropods (shrimp, crab, and lobsters, for example) may have an allergic reaction to eating insects. Note that this is different than all shellfish. Ann has a bivalve allergy (think oysters and clams) and did not have a reaction after trying products made with cricket protein. To be sure, she started with a tiny bite!
Technically, eating a bug is the same as eating any other animal. So this doesn’t fit into a traditionally vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
However, for those choosing veganism because of cruelty to animals, consider that insects don’t have a brain, lungs, or a central nervous system. They don’t seem to feel physical pain either, and the killing method is less tortuous than it is for mammals. This may or may not impact who is willing to try eating insects!
So why isn’t insect eating catching on in the United States?
The ICK Factor
This is probably the biggest reason edible insects haven’t caught on. But there are some other barriers too.
Traditionally, insects have been consumed in the environment where they live and have not been mass-produced. Processing and regulating insect-based products is a newer sector, and so has some growing pains to live through.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Insect agriculture, or how and where to farm and breed
- Developing safe manufacturing practices to meet FDA and other governmental standards
- Establishing regulations, labels, and controls for microbial hazards
Because this industry is new, there are not many processing facilities in operation. This makes insect products relatively expensive and not easily accessible. For example, we could only find cricket flour online, and it cost over $10 per pound. As a comparison, all-purpose flour costs about $1 per pound.
Edible Insect Products
If you’re not ready to chomp into a juicy fried beetle quite yet, there are some other ways to reap the benefits of these little buggers (ha!).
- Try an insect protein (also called acheta protein) bar. We tried the brand EXO, which comes in flavors including cookie dough, peanut butter, and fudge brownie. Ann and her family found them to be “meh” and I agreed, although other taste-testers really liked them, especially because they aren’t too sweet. The peanut butter flavor received the most positive comments.
- Add a scoop of cricket protein powder (and vitamins!) to food as you would traditional protein powders. I used it in Ann’s Very Berry Smoothie. When scooping, it smelled a bit like dry dog food, but once it was blended in, I couldn’t smell or taste it. My dad drank it too!
- How about a snack of whole roasted crickets? We tried the EXO brand flavored with Hickory Smoked Bacon and Buffalo Wing Sauce. I would describe them as crisp, grassy, and nutty. They actually remind me of store-bought roasted chickpeas. My son and his friend were willing taste-testers and my son actually took a second one and said it wasn’t bad! His friend asked me where the blood was and we had a lively discussion about it all!
On the Bandwagon!
I’m not typically a food trend gal, but this one checks a lot of boxes for me (except for the inaccessibility and current price tag). I’m willing to go a few steps further and try something more adventurous if the opportunity comes my way – perhaps the next cicada brood 😂. How about you?
🦗 As always, if you have any questions or comments, please reach out. We love to hear from you!
This one caught my eye, because I once lived in central Africa where insects are a normal part of the diet. My favorites were “flying ants” which are actually a stage in the life cycle of termites — they fly out when the rainy season begins to shed their wings, and people gather them. Fried, they are like popcorn but very “buttery”. I have also eaten stews with mopane worms, which look like big grubs, but found those more chewy and didn’t much like the texture (they didn’t have much taste). I have a cookbook from Malawi that has an entire section on insects, with drawing of different ones and directions on how to prepare them. But I haven’t done this much, and most of those don’t live in N. America. So intellectually it makes sense, but practically I haven’t engaged much.
Hi Judy – I loved reading about your personal experience eating insects! I totally agree with you that intellectually it makes so much sense, but it doesn’t seem to practical (at least yet) in North America. I think I could do a fried ant…but the ‘ick factor’ of a chewy worm is still too overpowering for me! If you do come across any edible insects or insect products and decide to give them a try, please report back!