Saturday, November 26, 2011
Bugs for Dinner!
In honor of Thanksgiving, which, yes I know was two days ago, I am going to talk about bugs and insects as a food source! There are more than 1,400 types of edible insects. Though, I admit, I have never purposely eaten a bug, and the thought does indeed gross me out a little, I have read that eating bugs as a source of protein has many advantages, especially compared to eating more mainstream meats like beef, lamb, pork and chicken.
One of the advantages to eating insects is nutritional value. Generally, insects have more protein, less calories and less fat than equivalent amounts of beef. Some insects, such as grasshoppers, have only about 5 grams less protein than the equivalent amount of beef and about three times more calcium than beef. Other insects, like crickets, have less than half the calories of beef and about a quarter of the fat, however crickets have about half the protein of beef. The insect with the highest amount of protein is the giant water beetle, and close behind is the dung beetle.
In my opinion, the biggest advantages of insects as a food source are the environmental and economic benefits. Insects in general are much easier to raise than livestock. They have a much higher feed to meat ratio than livestock, meaning, it takes much less feed to produce insect meat. For every ten kilograms of feed you can produce between seven and nine kilograms of insect meat compared to only one kilogram of beef for the same amount of feed. This saves a lot of money and also is much more sustainable since less space is needed to produce crops to make animal feed. Raising insects also takes up much less space than raising livestock.
According to my sources, many insects are also not bad tasting and can be incorporated into food in many ways. You can even dry insects, crush them up, and make flour out of them. One source said that male bee larvae tasted similar to honey bacon and another said that Giant Water beetles have a flavor similar to scallops when fried or roasted. One of my uncle's also once said that tiny carpenter ants, which my little cousins were feeding to him live while laughing hysterically, tasted like pepper (yes, my family is weird.)
Still grossed out? Bugs are used as a food source in many parts of the world and have been since the beginnings of our species. There are even references to eating bugs in the Bible (locusts and honey). Though the practice of eating bugs, called entomophagy, is seen as disgusting in the U.S., we have all eaten a substantial amount of bugs without knowing it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows for a certain amount of insects in food, for example, tomato sauce can have 30 fly eggs per 100 grams and chocolate can have up to 60 insect parts per 100 grams. Also, during the average lifetime, a person consumes about seventy insects and ten spiders while sleeping.
Many see bugs as the food source of the future. One U.S. company, called Entom Foods, is trying to get Americans to seriously consider eating bugs and aims to introduce them into Western culture in ways that we can more easily accept them. For example they are currently trying to find a way to make processed bug meats. They intend to use bugs that are already farmed commercially to feed people's pets, such as crickets, grasshoppers and meal worms. If you are eager and want to try bugs for yourself, there are many recipes online and in some of my links below (the second link is best for recipes and preparation). As a general rule of thumb please try to avoid brightly colored bugs which are often poisonous, and play it safe and cook them before you eat them because some bugs carry diseases or contain parasites. There are always exceptions to rules so please, please, please do your research first and DO NOT just go out in your garden and start munching on bugs. Personally, after all I have read about it, I am very intrigued and intend to try out eating bugs. I will be sure to do follow-up posts about these experiences to let you all know how it goes. Until then bon appetit!