While the thought of eating insects puts some of us off eating entirely, creepy-crawlies may be an extremely valuable food source in the near future.
Large-scale factory farming is inhumane and cruel, and raising livestock creates an alarming amount of greenhouse gas. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation states that 97 per cent of the world’s soy crops are fed to livestock, and growing this takes up 26 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land, releasing 18 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of more than seven gigatonnes of CO2 per year.
Bugs may be the answer. Sustainably minded chefs such as Kylie Kwong support the growing movement to increase our bug intake, which is common in many cuisines. Insects are arthropods, like crustaceans, so eating insects should be no different to eating prawns or crayfish – though people with shellfish allergies should take care.
Insects take up very little space, compared to traditional livestock, and can be raised stacked on top of each other in using specialised kits. “This means you can breed certain edible species on your own,” says Skye Blackburn, an entomologist who supplies bugs for Kwong’s Sydney restaurant, through an insect farm that she has run in Western Sydney since 2009.
“Ten kilograms of grain can produce either a kilogram of beef, or nine kilograms of crickets!” Blackburn says.
“By eating edible insects, you are supporting a sustainable form of protein that will most likely have a regular place on our dinner plates in the future. They can help increase the amount of protein in a range of sweet and savoury dishes.”
“In the Western world, we haven’t grown up eating bugs. In Thailand, school children are given insects to eat as part of their school lunch, so it’s completely normal.”
The insect products that Blackburn sells through her online shop, The Edible Bug Shop, have many nutritional benefits.
“The crickets are high in protein and calcium, and low in fat. We dry roast them, so no oils or flavourings are added. The mealworms are approx 33 per cent protein, low in fat and are high in essential amino acids.”
Be warned, though – while “there are more than 1,500 recorded types of edible insects, some are not edible. These include insects that are bright in colour, as well as insects that contain spikes or hairs. They can contain toxins or are unpalatable.”
Taste plays an important role in Blackburn’s business. “Insects are actually very tasty,” says Blackburn. The range developed in her test kitchen includes roasted crickets and mealworms, dehydrated ants, and insect lollipops and chocolate confections. There are even ants that taste like lemongrass and ginger.
Blackburn visits schools to teach children about insects’ role in our ecosystems as part of the Butterfly Skye’s Butterfly Release and Insect Education Program. “By educating the general public, I really believe that we can help bring edible insects to tables around the world in a way that is fun, exciting and tasty.”
Writer’s note: This post first appeared as a feature at Green Lifestyle Magazine on Wednesday 4 June, 2014. Check out my taste test of some of ready-to-eat packaged edible insects by clicking through to the feature, How to eat an insect.