Insects as food

Insects as food or edible insects are insect species used for human consumption. More than 2,000 insects species worldwide are considered edible.[1] However, a much smaller number[2] is discussed for industrialized mass production[3] and partly regionally authorized for use in food. Common forms of consumption are whole insects on the one hand, and pulverized insects that are used as an ingredient in dishes or in processed food products such as burger patties, pasta, or snacks, on the other hand.

Whole, fried edible insects as street food in Germany
Whole, steamed silkworm pupae as street food in South Korea (beondegi)
Pancakes made from insect powder, served with strawberries and skyr

Edible insects

Number of edible insect species per country

Frequently consumed insect species

Estimates of numbers of edible insect species consumed globally range from 1,000 to 2,000.[4] These species include 235 butterflies and moths, 344 beetles, 313 ants, bees and wasps, 239 grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches, 39 termites, and 20 dragonflies, as well as cicadas.[5] It is estimated that more than 2 billion people eat insects daily.[6] Which species are consumed varies by region due to differences in environment, ecosystems, and climate.

The table below lists the top five insect orders consumed by humans worldwide.[7]

Order of insect Common name Proportion of species consumed worldwide (%)
Coleoptera Beetles 31
Lepidoptera Butterflies, moths 18
Hymenoptera Bees, wasps, ants 14
Orthoptera Grasshoppers, locusts, crickets 13
Hemiptera Cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers 10

For a list of edible insects consumed locally see: List of edible insects by country.

Edible insects for industrialized mass production

To increase consumer interest in Western markets such as Europe and North America, insects have been processed into a non‐recognizable form, such as powders or flour.[8] Policymakers, academics,[2] as well as large-scale insect food producers such as Entomofarms in Canada, Aspire Food Group in the United States,[9] Protifarm and Protix in the Netherlands, and Bühler Group in Switzerland, focus on seven insects species suitable for human consumption as well as industrialized mass production:[3]

Nutritional profile

Freeze-dried mealworms and buffalo worms (lesser mealworm)

Insects are nutrient-efficient compared to other meat sources. Insects such as crickets are a complete protein and contain a useful amount of protein, comparable with that from soybeans, though less than in casein (found in foods such as cheese).[10] They have dietary fiber and include mostly unsaturated fat and contain some vitamins, such as vitamin B12,[11] riboflavin and vitamin A, and essential minerals.[12][13]

Locusts contain between 8 and 20 milligrams of iron for every 100 grams of raw locust, whereas beef contains roughly 6 milligrams of iron in the same amount of meat. Crickets are also very efficient in terms of nutrients. For every 100 grams of substance crickets contain 12.9 grams of protein, 121 calories, and 5.5 grams of fat. Beef contains more protein containing 23.5 grams in 100 grams of substance, but also has roughly triple the calories and four times the amount of fat as crickets do in 100 grams.

Nutritional value
per 100 g
Mealworms
(Tenebrio molitor)
Buffalo worms
(Alphitobius diaperinus)
House crickets
(Acheta domesticus)
Migratory locust
(Locusta migratoria)
Energy550 kcal / 2303 KJ484 kcal/ 2027 KJ458 kcal/ 1918 KJ559 kcal/ 2341 KJ
Fat
Of which saturated fatty acids
37,2 g
9 g
24,7 g
8 g
18,5 g
7 g
38,1 g
13,1 g
Carbohydrates
Of which sugars
5,4 g
0 g
6,7 g
0 g
0 g
0 g
1,1 g
0 g
Protein45,1 g56,2 g69,1 g48,2 g
Salt0,37 g0,38 g1,03 g0,43 g

Farming, production, and processing

Cricket Shelter Modular Edible Insect Farm, designed by Terreform ONE
Crickets being raised for human consumption

Edible insects are raised as livestock in specialized insect farms. In North American as well as European countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium, insects are produced under strict food law and hygiene standard for human consumption.

Several variables apply, such as temperature, humidity, feed, water sources, and housing, depending on the insect species. The insects are raised from eggs to larvae status (mealworms, lesser mealworms) or to their mature form (crickets, locusts) in industrialized insect farms and then killed via temperature control.[14][15] After that the insects are freeze-dried and packed whole, or pulverized to insect powder (insect flour), to be processed in other food products such as bakery products, or snacks.

Aside from nutritional composition and digestibility, insects are also selected for ease of rearing by the producer. This includes susceptibility to disease, efficiency of feed conversion, developmental rate and generational turnover.[16]

Insect food products

The following processed food products are produced by several producers in North America, Canada, and the EU:

  • Insect flour: Pulverized, freeze-dried insects (e.g., cricket flour).
  • Insect burger: Hamburger patties made from insect powder / insect flour (mainly from mealworms or from house cricket) and further ingredients.[17]
  • Insect fitness bars: Protein bars containing insect powder (mostly house crickets).
  • Insect pasta: Pasta made of wheat flour, fortified with insect flour (house crickets or mealworms).
  • Insect bread (Finnish Sirkkaleipä): Bread baked with insect flour (mostly house crickets).[18]
  • Insect snacks: Crisps, flips or small snacks (bites) made with insect powder and other ingredients.[19]

Food and drink companies such as the Australian brewery Bentspoke Brewing Co and the South African startup Gourmet Grubb even introduced insect-based beer,[20] a milk alternative, as well as insect ice cream.[21]

Food safety

EU

In the European Union, edible insects – whole or in parts, e.g., legs, wings, or heads – fall within the definition of novel food, given by the European Commission.[22] Dossiers for several insect species are currently under review by the European Food Safety Authority.

In August 2018, EFSA published a first risk profile for the house cricket as food.[23] According to a risk assessment published by EFSA on 13 January 2021, the yellow mealworm is safe for human consumption.[24][25] On 2 July 2021, EFSA published another scientific opinion stating that migratory locust in frozen, dried or ground state is safe for human consumption.[26] On 17 August 2021, EFSA published a safety assessment with view to house crickets (Acheta domesticus) stating that frozen and dried formulations from whole house crickets are safe for consumption.[27] On 4 July 2022, EFSA published an opinion confirming the safety of frozen and freeze-dried formulations of the lesser mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus in larval state) for human consumption.[28]

Following EFSA's assessment, the European Commission has authorized the following edible insects as novel food in the EU:

  • Dried Tenebrio molitor larvae (mealworms) with the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/882 of 1 June 2021.[29] The regulation came into force 20 days after its publication on 22 June 2021.
  • Frozen, dried and powdered forms of migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) with the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1975 of 12 November 2021.[30] The regulation came into force 20 days after its publication on 5 December 2021.
  • Frozen, dried and powdered forms of house cricket (Acheta domesticus) with the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2022/188 of 10 February 2022.[31]
  • Frozen, paste, dried and powder forms of lesser mealworm larvae (Alphitobius diaperinus) with the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2023/58 of 5 January 2023.[32]

Switzerland

On 1 May 2017, Switzerland has approved the following insect species as food:[33]

Under certain conditions, these may be offered to consumers as whole animals, pulverized, or processed in food products.

UK

After the Brexit transition period, the regulation regarding edible insects changed in the United Kingdom on 21 January 2021, making them non-marketable without authorization. Insect food products that had been on the market had to be recalled. Insect food products have to be authorized by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in a novel food authorization process.[34][35] In February 2022, UK insect industry association Woven Network CIC submitted a first dossier for the authorization of house crickets (Acheta domesticus) as novel food to the FSA.[36]

USA and Canada

In the USA and Canada, insects for human consumption are not classified as novel food and the import and sale is permitted. In the US, insect food products must comply with FDA standards and food labelling regulations (including allergy risk labelling).[37]

Within the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), the FDA states that "The term 'food' means (1) articles used for food or drink for man or other animals, (2) chewing gum, and (3) articles used for components of any such article."[38] Thus, with insects falling under said category, they must be safe and may not bear any added poisonous or added deleterious substance that is unsafe. Said items may not be prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions, and must be produced in accordance with current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), regulations for manufacturing/processing, packing, or holding human food.[39][40] The FD&C Act also includes requirements that pertain to the labeling of food and preventive controls, as applicable. Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that the food they produce for the United States market is safe and complies with the FD&C Act and FDA's implementing regulations.[41]

Challenges and safety concerns

There are some potential challenges caused by production and safety concerns.

Mass production in the insect industry is a concern due to a lack of technology and funds to efficiently harvest and produce insects. The machinery would have to house proper enclosure for each life cycle of the insect as well as the temperature control as that is key for insect development.[42]

The industry also has to consider the shelf life of insects in comparison to animal products as that can have some food safety concerns. Insects have the capability of accumulating potential hazards, such as contaminants, pathogens, the concentration of heavy metals, allergens, and pesticides etc.[43]

The table below combined the data from two studies[44][45] published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety and summarized the potential hazards of the top five insect species consumed by humans.

Insect order Common name Hazard category Potential hazard
Coleoptera Beetle Chemical Hormones
Cyanogentic substances
Heavy metal contamination
Lepidoptera Silkworm Allergic
Chemical Thiaminase
Honeycomb moth Microbial High bacterial count
Chemical Cyanogentic substances
Hymenoptera Ant Chemical Antinutritional factors (tannin, phytate)
Orthoptera House cricket Microbial High bacterial count
Hemiptera Parasitical Chagas disease
Diptera Black soldier fly Parasitical Myiasis

Hazards in insects that are shown above can be controlled by various ways. Allergic hazards can be labelled on the package to avoid consumption by allergy-susceptible consumers. Selective farming can be used to minimize chemical hazards, whereas microbial and parasitical hazards can be controlled by cooking processes.[46]

Awareness

The World Edible Insect Day, being held on 23 October, was introduced by Belgian entrepreneur Chris Derudder in 2015 to raise awareness globally for the consumption of edible insects, with a focus on Europe, North America, and Australia.[47]

See also

  • Insects as feed
  • Insect-based pet food
  • List of edible insects by country

Footnotes

  1. Wageningen University/Yde Jongema (1 April 2017): List of edible insects of the world.
  2. Christos I Rumbos, Christos G Athanassiou (3 April 2021): ‘Insects as Food and Feed: If You Can't Beat Them, Eat Them!'—To the Magnificent Seven and Beyond. In: Journal of Insect Science, Volume 21, Issue 2, March 2021, 9, https://doi.org/10.1093/jisesa/ieab019.
  3. van Huis, Arnold (2017-09-15). Insects As Food and Feed: From Production to Consumption. ISBN 9789086862962.
  4. Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta (2009). "Anthropo-Entomophagy: Cultures, Evolution And Sustainability". Entomological Research. 39 (5): 271–288. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5967.2009.00238.x. S2CID 84739253.
  5. Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta; Menzel, Peter (1998). Creepy crawly cuisine: the gourmet guide to edible insects. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-89281-747-4. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  6. Pap, Fundacja (2018-03-05). "Expert: More than 2 billion people worldwide eat insects every day". Science in Poland. Retrieved 2022-02-27.
  7. van Huis, Arnold. Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security (PDF). Rome. ISBN 9789251075968. OCLC 868923724.
  8. Melgar‐Lalanne, Guiomar; Hernández‐Álvarez, Alan-Javier; Salinas‐Castro, Alejandro (2019). "Edible Insects Processing: Traditional and Innovative Technologies". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 18 (4): 1166–1191. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12463. ISSN 1541-4337. PMID 33336989.
  9. Carson, Erin (12 October 2017). "You're going to be eating crickets, so just get over it". Cnet. Archived from the original on 10 October 2018.
  10. Van Huis, Arnold (2015). "Edible insects contributing to food security?". Agriculture & Food Security. 4 (20). doi:10.1186/s40066-015-0041-5.
  11. Schmidt, Anatol; Call, Lisa; Macheiner, Lukas; Mayer, Helmut K. (2018). "Determination of vitamin B12 in four edible insect species by immunoaffinity and ultra-high performance liquid chromatography". Food Chemistry. 281: 124–129. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.12.039. PMID 30658738. S2CID 58651702.
  12. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/10/eating-bugs-food_n_4726371.html?slideshow=true Here's Why You Should Start Eating (More) Bugs
  13. FAO: Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Online: PDF Archived 2019-02-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. The Atlantic (2015-09-24): "The companies farming crickets for human consumption".
  15. Forbes (2018-01-39): "Farming The Next Big Food Source: Crickets".
  16. Oonincx, Dennis G. A. B; Van Broekhoven, Sarah; Van Huis, Arnold; Van Loon, Joop J. A (2015). "Feed Conversion, Survival and Development, and Composition of Four Insect Species on Diets Composed of Food By-Products". PLOS ONE. 10 (12): e0144601. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1044601O. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144601. PMC 4689427. PMID 26699129.
  17. Food Navigator (2018-10-12): Article on the insect burger by German start-up Bugfoundation.
  18. Reuters (2017-11-23): Finland baker launches bread made from crushed crickets.
  19. Bug Burger (2019-3-11): Future food now: Finnish Bugbites and Norwegian mealworm bread.
  20. Hardy, Karen (22 November 2019). "Hop into a BentSpoke beer made of crickets and flies". Canberra Times. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  21. Bailey, Stephanie (25 July 2019). "Could this insect ice cream convince you to eat bugs?". CNN. Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  22. European Commission (2018-01-03): Questions and Answers: New Novel Food Regulation
  23. European Food Safety Authority (28 August 2018): Novel foods: a risk profile for the house cricket (Acheta domesticus).
  24. European Food Safety Authority (13 January 2021): Safety of dried yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor larva) as a novel food pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. In: EFSA Journal.
  25. Boffey, Daniel (2021-01-13). "Yellow mealworm safe for humans to eat, says EU food safety agency". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-01-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. EFSA (2 July 2021): Safety of frozen and dried formulations from migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) as a Novel food pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. In: EFSA Journal. Vol. 19, Issue 7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2021.6667.
  27. EFSA (17 August 2021): Safety of frozen and dried formulations from whole house crickets (Acheta domesticus) as a Novel food pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. In: EFSA Journal 2021;19(8):6779.
  28. EFSA (4 July 2022): Safety of frozen and freeze-dried formulations of the lesser mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus larva) as a Novel food pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. In: EFSA Journal 2022;20(7):7325. doi: https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2022.7325
  29. EU Commission (2 June 2021): Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/882 of 1 June 2021 authorising the placing on the market of dried Tenebrio molitor larva as a novel food under Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and amending Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2470.
  30. EU Commission (15 November 2021): Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1975 of 12 November 2021 authorising the placing on the market of frozen, dried and powder forms of Locusta migratoria as a novel food under Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 of the European Parliament and of the Council and amending Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2470.
  31. EU Commission (11 February 2022): Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2022/188 of 10 February 2022 authorising the placing on the market of frozen, dried and powder forms of Acheta domesticus as a novel food under Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and amending Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2470.
  32. EU Commission (6 January 2023): Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2023/58 of 5 January 2023 authorising the placing on the market of the frozen, paste, dried and powder forms of Alphitobius diaperinus larvae (lesser mealworm) as a novel food and amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/2470.
  33. Bundesamt für Lebensmittelsicherheit und Veterinärwesen (2017-04-28): "Insects as food" (German only)
  34. Food Manufacture (4 November 2021): Edible insects left in legal limbo.
  35. Vice World News (28 October 2021): Edible Insects That Could Help Stop Climate Change Are Banned From Major Climate Summit.
  36. Food Navigator/Oliver Morrison (2 February 2022): "A major milestone for the UK edible insect sector": UK edible insect makers hope for Novel Food approval by 2023.
  37. Mariod, Abdalbasit Adam (2020): The Legislative Status of Edible Insects in the World. In: Mariod A.A. (eds) African Edible Insects As Alternative Source of Food, Oil, Protein and Bioactive Components. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32952-5_9.
  38. "Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  39. "Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act" (PDF). p. 5.
  40. "Food Current Good Manufacturing Practice Modernization Report (2005)". Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  41. "Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and security" (PDF).
  42. Rumpold, B.A., & Schlüter O.K. (2013) Potential and challenges of insects as an innovative source for food and feed production. Innov Food Sci Emerg Technol 17, 1–11.
  43. van der Spiegel, M.; Noordam, M.y.; van der Fels-Klerx, H.j. (2013-11-01). "Safety of Novel Protein Sources (Insects, Microalgae, Seaweed, Duckweed, and Rapeseed) and Legislative Aspects for Their Application in Food and Feed Production". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 12 (6): 662–678. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12032. PMID 33412718.
  44. van der Spiegel, M.; Noordam, M.y.; van der Fels-Klerx, H.j. (2013-11-01). "Safety of Novel Protein Sources (Insects, Microalgae, Seaweed, Duckweed, and Rapeseed) and Legislative Aspects for Their Application in Food and Feed Production". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 12 (6): 662–678. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12032. PMID 33412718.
  45. Belluco, Simone; Losasso, Carmen; Maggioletti, Michela; Alonzi, Cristiana C.; Paoletti, Maurizio G.; Ricci, Antonia (2013-05-01). "Edible Insects in a Food Safety and Nutritional Perspective: A Critical Review". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 12 (3): 296–313. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12014.
  46. Belluco, Simone; Losasso, Carmen; Maggioletti, Michela; Alonzi, Cristiana C.; Paoletti, Maurizio G.; Ricci, Antonia (2013-05-01). "Edible Insects in a Food Safety and Nutritional Perspective: A Critical Review". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 12 (3): 296–313. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12014.
  47. Edible Bug Farm (2015-10-03): Interview with Chris Derudder on WEID.

Further reading

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