Food

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Like all insects, this edible water beetle contains significant amounts of fiber due to the chitin from their outer skeleton.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

This sushi is garnished with fried grasshopper. Traditional Japanese cuisine uses many different insects such as bee and stonefly larvae; grasshoppers are often served in sugar and soy sauce. Researchers believe that sushi lovers might be some of the first Americans to embrace eating insects because they are already accustomed to eating unusual offerings.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

The fear factor dare – The TV show "Fear Factor," which ran from 2001 to 2006, helped launch some innovative insect foods, such as this "Crunchy Larva" candy which debuted in three flavors at the Chicago Candy Expo in 2005.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Edible winged ants are garnishing a gourmet dish at Bangkok's "Insects in the Backyard," which says it offers the first insect-based fine dining menu. Ants are highly sought food sources in many parts of the world: The black weaver ant is popular in China, India and Sri Lanka, and leafcutter species are quite popular in Mexico.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Roasted mealworm anyone? – If it's on a stick, it's better, right? So why not try some toasted mealworms, the larval form of the mealworm beetle. With a slight nutty flavor (you hear that a lot about bugs), each mealworm is 46% protein and full of beneficial amino acids and vitamins.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Grasshoppers are commonly eaten as a side dish, snack and lunch-box ingredient in Korea. In Mexico, they are known as chapulines, and are a popular form of street food. Preparation is simple: salt them lightly, put in a bit of water, and

simmer until dry. Bigger grasshoppers are deep fried or roasted.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

These pre-cooked insect burgers on a supermarket shelf in Geneva are based on protein-rich mealworm. Because they have a mild flavor they can easily be doctored with other ingredients for a protein-packed meal with a tiny carbon footprint.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

An emperor of a dish – How about snacking on a bowl of toasted mopane worms? While called a worm, the four-inch critter is actually the caterpillar of the emperor moth. As big around as a cigar, the creatures are typically gutted and dried or smoked, which enhances the flavors. Mopane worms are nearly 60% protein, 17% fat and packed full of minerals, making them very healthy to eat.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Pan-roasting crickets until they're crisp and toasty is one way of getting your bug fix. But if you prefer a less obvious snack, try a cricket version of Rice Krispies treats or choco-cricket cookies. You can also easily use cricket powder as the protein in your next smoothie.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

To harvest silk from silkworms, they must be boiled while still in the cocoon or the silk is ruined. That leaves a lot of boiled silkworms to eat! In Korea, they are seasoned into a popular snack food known as beondegi. They have a pungent, almost bitter smell (which is said to be much worse if they are canned), and their juices pop into your mouth when you bite -- which may or may not be to your liking.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Palm weevil larvae are about 55% fat, 33% protein, have medium to high levels of all nine essential amino acids and are packed with B-vitamins, zinc and vitamin E. Mature larvae can be quite large, some with a mass close to six grams.

The perfect food, right? They don't need extra oil, and will fry in their own fat, caramelizing to a golden brown, crispy exterior. Best to slice them open a bit before frying or you might have exploding larvae all over your kitchen.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Don't call the exterminator! These cockroaches eating feed at a roach farm in Yibin, China, will soon be on the menu. Insects are the rare kind of livestock that you can raise vertically in stackable bins and tubs, and they require only 1/1,000th of the amount of water that cattle need to provide the same amount of edible food.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Some of the 10 million cockroaches raised at the Yibin, China, farm have ended up in this dish at a local restaurant.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

By this time, you're ready for something really adventurous, right? The slightly salty fried tarantulas are such a delicacy in Cambodia that large ones can sell for $1 each, an enormous sum considering that minimum wage is $6 a day. A CNN freelancer cooked his own and said the belly tastes like crab. Others say the legs are delicious dipped into soy or sweet chili sauce.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

Deep-fried scorpion on a stick looks scary but is said to be quite delicious. Some compare the crunchy bite to fried chicken skin, others says crispy french fries or buttery popcorn kernels. Whatever the taste, they are certainly healthier, containing about 52% protein and potassium. But don't eat too many -- the tannin content will dry your mouth or give you a headache (just like wine).

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

In Mexico City, you can easily find tortillas enriched with yellow mealworms, a traditional source of protein. Mexico has at least 300 species of edible insects, and they were a key part of the Aztec diet for centuries. It's easy to hide insects in the rich, spicy flavors of Mexican cooking, but grasshoppers are often served crispy, along with a shot of mescal, lime and salt.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

An employee holds insect protein powder at an experimental insect farm in Dole, in eastern France. Cricket protein, for example, is said to be a "complete protein" just like fish, meat, dairy and eggs.

 

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

Food of the future: Bugs

L'Atelier a pates, a pasta shop in eastern France, uses insect flour made with locusts to make a special pasta. Because locusts appear in swarms, they are particularly easy to harvest in the wild, and were a part of the Native American diet. It's said to taste like a prawn, and there are recommendations to rename them "sky prawns" to ease Westerners into considering them as a food resource.

 

On a morning in the not-too-distant future, you might toast bread made with cricket flour, drink a protein smoothie made from locust powder, and eat scrambled eggs (made extra-creamy with the fat from mopane caterpillars) with a side of mealworm bacon.

That meal will give you four times the iron, more than three times the protein and more key vitamins and minerals than the bread, smoothie, eggs and bacon you eat today -- all while saving the planet.

No way you'll eat bugs, you say?

Well, sorry to break this to you, but if you eat chocolate, pizza and spaghetti, you are already eating insects -- and worse.

The US Food and Drug Administration allows 30 or more insect parts and some rodent hair in every bar of chocolate; nearly two maggots in a 16 ounce can of tomatoes or pizza sauce; and up to 450 insect parts and nine rodent hairs in every 16 ounce box of spaghetti.

There's just no way to get rid of all the creatures that might hitch a ride along the food processing chain, so the FDA has to allow what they call "food defects," which you eat without knowing. They are in many of our foods -- even peanut butter and jelly.

So why not eat bugs on purpose and simultaneously fight climate change?

Bugs are really good for you

Your friends and neighbors are already munching on insects. According to a report by Global Market Insights, the US edible insect market topped $55 million in 2017 and is expected to grow to nearly $80 million by 2024.

Europe's on track to do the same, while Asia Pacific nations are expected to eat $270 million worth of insects by the quarter of the century.

A growing demand for high quality protein, along with a movement toward sustainability and against processed foods, are a few of the reasons behind the growing popularity.

Here's another explanation: Bugs are very good for you.

Many countries and traditions have known this for decades, even centuries. According to a 2013 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at least 2 billion people worldwide eat bugs every day.

"I've eaten bugs in many countries: termites, scorpions, beetle larvae, grasshoppers, silkworms. All very common," said entomologist Jeff Tomberlin, who directs the forensic and investigative sciences program at Texas A&M University.

"I had beetle larva that was incorporated into a quiche. I've had bamboo worms that were fried like French fries," he said. "I've had termites that were smoked and served as an appetizer, just like peanuts.

"As for the taste, it's sort of a nutty popcorn flavor," Tomberlin said. "The buttery flavor would be the fat of the insect and the nuttiness would be the chitin, or the exoskeleton."

The most commonly eaten insect groups globally, according to the FAO, are ants; beetles; bees; caterpillars; cicadas; crickets; dragonflies; flies; grasshoppers; leaf bugs; locusts; scale insects; termites; and wasps.

But there's lots more to choose from. More than 2,100 edible insects have been recorded in the world, according to Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.

The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs

And many of those are packed with good-for-you vitamins, minerals, fat and protein. In fact, insects are often considered delicacies.

Queen termites, for example, are so nutritionally dense that they are fed to undernourished children in Uganda and Zambia.

Consider those mealworms you had instead of bacon at our imaginary breakfast. They have higher unsaturated omega-3 levels than fish, as well as the same protein, vitamin and mineral content.

The cricket protein in the toast you hypothetically enjoyed is said to be a "complete protein" just like fish, meat, dairy and eggs. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build and repair protein tissues in the body. We don't naturally make those essential amino acids, so we must get them through our diet.

In addition, each insect delivers an enormous punch of protein for its size.

Take the mopane caterpillar, one of the most highly prized and devoured insects in the world. One mopane worm, as they are called, provides between 48% to 61% of protein, and is a source of calcium, zinc and iron.

Then there's the fat content: 16% to 20% of the mopane worm is fat, of which 40% is essential fatty acids. The fat can add a creaminess to recipes (remember your future breakfast eggs?).

Bugs are good for the planet

And then there's the biggest selling point: Devouring bugs instead of methane-producing livestock is an easy, excellent way to deliver quality nutrition to the masses of humanity while helping the environment.

But it's not just protecting the ozone. Bugs don't use much water (there's a global water crisis). They can be grown on organic waste (poo-poo platter anyone?). And they can be grown vertically, in a small amount of space.

That last bit is huge: According to the FAO, over a fourth of the world's land is used for grazing livestock. Another third of the earth is dedicated to growing crops that will be eaten by livestock.

Just think of it: Bugs can be grown in small cages nested inside insect skyscrapers.

If that is huge, this next fact is gargantuan: Because they are cold-blooded and need less energy to stay warm, bugs need much less food than animals.

Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and half the feed needed by pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein, according to the FAO.

"If you look at the production of a pound of beef, you're looking at a conversion rate of about 20 to 1 -- 20 pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat," Tomberlin said. "If you look at insects, you're looking at about 2 to 1 ratio. So it's a much more effective conversion rate."

If that isn't enough, there's yet another plus: the fast life-cycle of insects.

"While you may feed an animal for six weeks to ready it for market, during that same period you (could) have multiple generations of insects," Tomberlin said. "Add that to the fact that you can raise them in such little space, on so little feed, and you've got three ways in which insects are superior food products than livestock."

The 2019 population estimate from the United Nations says that our world will grow from 7.7 billion now to 9.7 billion in 2050.

Consider the devastating effects of climate change, overfishing, water shortages and a reduced productivity of crop-growing fields, and it's easy to see how insects will soon be the protein of the future.

Mopane worm hummus, anyone?