Foodies are abuzz about bugs – but are they tasty and nutritious?

According to a recent Radio New Zealand item, we each eat – on average – about half a kilo of insects every year because many bugs (such as aphids, thrips, fruit flies and their larvae)  find their way into our food. But Bex de Prospo and Peter Randrup, in Christchurch, have started a business called Anteater supplying insects to New Zealand restaurants.

The item went on to note:

  • With the world’s population tipped to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is hoping we’ll put insects on the menu as the main course, rather than as an unwanted ingredient. It is championing the benefits of eating insects – or entomophagy – as a low-cost, environmentally sound, protein-rich food to feed all of these extra people.
  • Humans have been eating bugs for thousands of years and nearly 2,000 species of insects eaten around the world today, both cooked and raw.

While the idea of eating bugs is creating a buzz in both foodie and international development circles as a more sustainable alternative to consuming meat and fish, scientists have been looking into the nutritional implications.

Science Daily has picked up on a report in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry which explains how the nutrients — particularly iron — provided by grasshoppers, crickets and other insects really measures up to beef.

Iron is a particularly important nutrient that is often missing in non-meat diets, causing iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to lower cognition, immunity, poor pregnancy outcomes and other problems. In light of these concerns, Yemisi Latunde-Dada and colleagues wanted to find out whether commonly eaten insects could contribute to a well-rounded meal.

The researchers analysed grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms and buffalo worms for their mineral contents and estimated how much of each nutrient would likely get absorbed if eaten, using a lab model of human digestion. The insects had varying levels of iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Crickets, for example, had higher levels of iron than the other insects did. And minerals including calcium, copper and zinc from grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms are more readily available for absorption than the same minerals from beef.

The results therefore support the idea that eating bugs could potentially help meet the nutritional needs of the world’s growing population, the researchers say.

Readers shouldn’t have to go far to see if bugs pass the taste test.

A recent Stuff report says there are now several distributors and retailers of edible insects, and products made from them, around the country.

The first and largest is Crawlers. Launched in 2013, it now stocks everything from cricket pasta, dried scorpions and chocolate-coated grasshoppers to a barbecue-flavoured canned tarantula.

Live Longer, which launched at the Go Green Expo Auckland 2016, is focused on developing organic, gluten-free foods that derive their protein from ecologically sustainable sources.

Roots in Lyttelton serves ‘Ants on koura’, using ants supplied by Anteater. And Christchurch gourmets can sample dishes like tempura locusts with celeriac or pickled mushrooms and cricket gravy at chef Alex Davies ‘Gathering’ events held at Space Academy.

At Dunedin’s Vault 21, locusts were added to the menu in May, with chef Greg Piner saying there’s been consistent demand for their fried locusts, which are tossed with BBQ salt and served with a micro herb salad.

And let’s not forget the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival this year celebrated 27 years of serving up unexpected and unconventional edibles, from huhu grubs and worms to spiders and snails.

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