Could eating insects save the human race?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen take a closer look at edible insects and the benefits of eating grubs!

How would we feel about cricket canapés or insect burgers? According to some it’s the protein of the future but can you really imagine seeing ‘finger licking good’ ants on the menu at KFC? Eating insects could be the key to feeding our ever-growing global population but is it really possible to convince us all to drop our fears of ‘creepy crawlies’? petergorton2Although largely frowned upon in the west, human insect-eating is common to cultures all around the world. Now, it is an issue not only considered by scientists but chefs too, as many now believe that eating insects could supplement our diet and build a more sustainable future. Peter Gorton is a consultant chef and previous owner of six restaurants including the formerly Michelin-starred Carved Angel in Dartmouth. He holds public tasting sessions with insects being the key ingredient. He said: “Why not eat insects? If you think of a prawn, it’s got an exoskeleton and, in appearance, they’re very similar to insects. Not so long ago, people would turn their nose up at sushi and say ‘I’m not eating raw fish’ but now you can even find it in Boots. As chefs, we’ve got to know what’s coming in the future and I think insects can supplement our diet. “When I do insect tasters, you have to dip them in a bit of chocolate, hide them in a cake or a quiche or risotto, anything really.” He added: “From my experience, people are happy to eat insects if they’re hidden or disguised but tend to get a bit queasy if presented with, for example, a plate full of crickets.”041 Ants and pineapple_image from the book D.O.M. Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, Phaidon Press Peter Smithers, Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Professor at Plymouth University explained that as the world’s population grows, we’re going to have to provide more protein to feed all the extra mouths. He said: “At the moment, the agricultural systems that we’ve got are close to breaking point. 75% of agricultural land is taken up by pastures to rear vertebrates. “The easiest comparison to make is with cattle and crickets. The time it takes between birth and the age at which they’re mature enough to be slaughtered is 18 months to two years for cattle whereas for crickets it’s two months. To produce a kilogramme of beef, we need 50 square metres but, for a kilogramme of crickets, we only need five square metres. Insects are wonderfully efficient.” Eating insects is nothing new. In Neolithic times, we would have readily eaten insects but we’ve evolved out of the habit. Alex Atala, the Brazilian chef famed for running D.O.M. in Sao Paolo, uses saúva ants on his menu. Alex_Atala resizedHe said: “The saúva ant has a very strong flavour of lemon grass and ginger so I mainly utilise it as a spice. However, insects are more commonly used as a protein source. The usage of these ants in my restaurant comes from the relationship with the indigenous tribes of the Alto do Rio Negro region in the Amazon. I learn a lot with them. There, the consumption of insects as a protein source is very common. “Insects are a font of protein and potentially a dietary supplement for the more than 7 billion people in the world,” Alex explained. “This is fundamental and a way of transforming how we feed the world. I’m very optimistic about the idea of insects in gastronomy and I believe tasty insects can and should be served in restaurants.” When you’re presented with a burger, you’re not presented with an animal as such and it’s easy for the mind to disassociate the meat with a living organism. With insects, there’s no getting away from it. Often you’re presented with the whole body so with a lot of people there’s a psychological barrier, long overcome with customary meat-eating. Food trends can be as hard to predict as styles in the fashion industry but there’s nothing to suggest that insects couldn’t be next in the line. Grub is a British company that imports insects from the Netherlands, selling mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers and buffalo worms. Shami Radia, co-founder of Grub is optimistic about the future of insect-eating in the UK and is hoping to develop an insect farm next year.EatGrub0040 “We really try to avoid the I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here vibe,” he said. “We see insects as a tasty and nutritional alternative source of protein. They turn it into a gimmick and a novelty, playing on our fears of creepy-crawlies but it’s our job to break down those barriers. Insects don’t explode in your mouth! They’re tasty!” There would also be potentially significant health benefits if insects were to supplement our diet. Insects are rich in both protein and lysine. Crickets contain more protein per kilogramme than lean mince while lysine is an essential amino acid that’s often deficient in the grain-heavy western diet. Peter Smithers explained: “There are very few known pathogens that are transmitted across the human-insect interface so most things that are bad for insects don’t have any effect on us. Whereas, when we eat meat we have to be really careful because there are so many parasites and diseases that can be transmitted. “I think meat is going to become increasingly expensive. At some point in the future, let’s say 100 years, it’s going to be an expensive treat rather than the dominant part of our diet.” The science is compelling: incorporating insects into our diet could not only provide a more sustainable food supply but also have significant economic and health related benefits. Jock Zonfrillo, chef and owner of Orana in Adelaide, Australia, was inspired by Alex Atala’s use of insects. He travelled Australia embracing Aboriginal culture in an endeavour to form an authentic Australian cuisine. ZonfrilloHe said:“More people eating insects would cut down the amount of meat and fish that’s consumed. It could replenish fish stocks in the ocean and help clean up the environment. The number of cattle reared just to be eaten as meat is really quite scary when you see some of the figures. There’s an abundance of insects as a food source and more work needs to be done to ensure we make the most of it.” When the argument is presented in such a way, the most pressing issue is an obvious one: why don’t we already eat insects? Well, according to Alex Atala, we already do, we just don’t realise it! “We actually already eat some insects but we are just not necessarily aware of it,” he explained. “When we eat things like strawberry yoghurt, peanut butter or chocolate we are consuming some insects that are part of the production or just crushed unintentionally in the process.” Jock went further, arguing that cultural misgivings are to blame. He said: “The reason we don’t eat insects now is because we’re not used to it. Putting something in your mouth is one of the most personal things you ever do. For most people in western culture, the thought of putting a ‘creepy-crawly’ inside the mouth is disgusting, simple as that. “Even if we started introducing them now, we’re at least three generations away from buying insects in a supermarket. Everyone enjoys meat but the thought of eating insects is an entirely new concept in our culture, that’s the biggest problem.” The global population is only going to grow. Having enough food to feed ourselves is an issue that dwarfs any political insecurity and places unprecedented responsibility on the shoulders of the world’s chefs. It is arguably the biggest question of our generation and the answer could well be insects. By Tom Evans @tevans43 *Join the debate on Facebook and Twitter or simply comment below

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th January 2015

Could eating insects save the human race?