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Insects as Human Food

(Microlivestock)
by: William F. Lyon The January 2, 1996 Wall Street Journal reported on a "small energetic group of entomologists, farmers and chefs" who are promoting edible insects, a foodstuff better known in academic circles as "Microlivestock." Entomophagy (the eating of insects) has yet to become a day-to-day activity for most people in the United States and Europe in spite of the superior nutritional content of edible insects compared to other animals. Other cultures around the world have made insects a main ingredient in their diets, providing an excellent source of protein. Insects are an inexpensive substitute for meat in many developing countries. In Mexico, grasshoppers and other edible insects are sold by the pound in village markets and are fried before being eaten. Many are sold in cans as fried grasshoppers, chocolate covered ants, etc. Tortillas are served with red and white agave worms in many Mexico city restaurants. Columbian citizens enjoy eating a variety of insects such as termites, palm grubs and ants. Ants are ground up and used as a spread on breads. Popular insects eaten in the Philippines are June beetles, grasshoppers, ants, mole crickets, water beetles, katydids, locusts and dragonfly larvae. They can be fried, broiled or sauted with vegetables. In parts of Africa, ants, termites, beetle grubs, caterpillars and grasshoppers are eaten. Some insects such as termites are eaten raw soon after catching, while others are baked or fried before eating. The giant waterbug roasted and eaten whole is a favorite food in Asia. It is easily collected around lights at night around bodies of water. Sago grubs are popular for cooks in Papua New Guinea, most often boiled or roasted over an open fire. Other edible insects eaten in this country include larvae of moths, wasps, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, adult grasshoppers, cicadas, stick insects, moths and crickets. In the United States, some restaurants (Washington, DC) are incorporating insects into their recipe books and menus. On the menu are interesting dishes such as stir-fried mealworms and caterpillar crunch (a combination of trail mix and fried caterpillars). Insects can be substituted for everyday recipe ingredients. Tom Turpin, Professor of Entomology at Purdue University enjoys "chocolate chirpy chips" which is a variation of chocolate chip cookies. He uses the chocolate chip cookie recipe but adds roasted crickets to the cookie dough before baking. The cricket's wings and legs are removed before roasting. Most American insect recipes are based on limited types of insects easily purchased from supply companies, pet stores or bait shops. Ants, crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms are the most common insects used for cooking. Over 1,000 insect species are eaten by humans world wide. Not all insects are edible. Some insects are toxic and may create allergy problems.

Along with nutrition comes the added benefit of good taste. Doug Whitman, Entomologist at Illinois State University, enjoys eating raw yellowjacket larvae which have a sweet, nutty flavor. Gene R. DeFoliart, retired Entomologist at the University of Wisconsin, prefers the greater wax moth larvae (deep-fried will melt in your mouth, tasting like bacon) and crickets deep-fried have a crunchy, tangy flavor. He feels the honey bee has a good chance of becoming an American bug food. A pound of honey bees is about 3,500 bees. They can be put in an oven at low heat for eight hours and then used in flour for cookies. Some feel insect popcorn, using crickets, would be a new theater treat. Most insects are cheap, tasty and a good natural protein source requiring less land and feed than raising cows or pigs. Many insects are far cleaner than other creatures. For example, grasshoppers and crickets eat fresh, clean, green plants whereas crabs, lobsters and catfish eat any kind of foul, decomposing material as a scavenger (bottom water feeder). By weight, termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, weevils, house flies and spiders are better sources of protein than beef, chicken, pork or lamb according to the Entomological Society of America. Also, insects are low in cholesterol and low in fat. If Americans could tolerate more insects (bugs) in what they eat, farmers could significantly reduce the amount of pesticides applied each year. It is better to eat more insects and less pesticide residue. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would relax the limit for insects and their parts (double the allowance) in food crops, U.S. farmers could significantly apply less pesticide each year. Fifty years ago, it was common for an apple to have worms inside, bean pods with beetle bites and cabbage with worm eaten leaves. Most Americans don't realize that they are probably already eating a pound or two of insects each year. One cannot see them, since they have been ground up into tiny pieces in such items as strawberry jams, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, frozen chopped broccoli, etc. Actually, these insect parts make some food products more nutritious. An issue of the Food Insects Newsletter reports that 80 percent of the world's population eats insects intentionally and 100 percent eat them unintentionally.

The nutritional content of edible insects and other animals based on a 100 gram serving are as follows:
Energy (Kcal) Termite (Macrotermes subhyanlinus) Caterpillar (Usata terpsichore) Weevil (Rhynchophorus phoenicis) Beef (Lean ground) Fish (Broiled cod) 613 370 562 219 170 Protein (g) 14.2 28.2 6.7 27.4 28.5 Iron (mg) 0.75 35.5 13.1 3.5 1.0 Thiamine (mg) 0.13 3.67 3.02 0.09 0.08 Riboflavin (mg) 1.15 1.91 2.24 0.23 0.11 Niacin 0.95 5.2 7.8 6.0 3.0