• Derya Engin

Are Insects the Food of the Future?



Entomophagy (the consumption of insects) is deeply rooted in human history, although its prevalence around the world ranges from none to common. Interestingly, regardless of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' 2013 report advising to turn to this alternative protein source, the discourse about consuming insects as food is not at all new.


Eating Insects Is Not New

The early Greeks and Romans wrote about insect consumption in their own lands and in others as well. Herodotus, Aristotle, Plutarch were among those who mentioned this dietary trait in their works. One of the earliest written pieces of evidence of insect consumption comes from a play of Aristophanes (425 BC), The Acharnians, Knights, and Clouds, Scene 1: "I've baith how - towdies, frien ', and locusts."


Pliny the Elder in his Naturae Historiae, completed in AD 77, writes: "These worms even have now begun to be looked upon as delicacies by epicures, and the large ones found in the robur are held in high esteem; they are known to us by the name of "cossis;" and are even fed with meal, in order to fatten them!"


Furthermore, in the Bible, Leviticus 11:22 explicitly states that "insects you are permitted to eat include all kinds of locusts, bald locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers." In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist, living a simple life in the wilderness under a Nazarite vow and following all kosher diet laws, eats "locusts and wild honey." The former for protein, fat, and nutrients and the latter for carbohydrates.


Throughout the centuries, entomophagy has been discussed, observed, and examined (e.g., I. Kant - "Physical Geography"). In the 20th century, with many nations facing food shortages because of war conditions, American entomologist L. Howard (1916), and naturalist J. Bequaert (1921), suggested we consider this new and cheap food supply.


Who Eats Insects?

Nevertheless, years later, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations still emphasizes insect protein as a sustainable, affordable, and nutritious alternative to conventional animal protein. In temperate zones, such consuming behavior is often still absent but is more likely to be observed in tropical countries and China, Japan, and Mexico. In the West, people tend to view insects as food with disgust. This behavioral trait is the best predictor regarding willingness to try insects, according to the research done by M.B. Ruby.


However, the same research shows that westerners are more likely to accept some insect-based products, such as flour. We saw this as far back as in the 18th century as F. Hasselquist, a Swedish traveler, learned that, when corn is scarce in Mecca, the Arabs obtained a substitute for flour by grinding locusts in their hand mills, they mixed it with water to turn into a dough and made bread of it.


Using Insects in Food Production

Today some edible insect flours are already existent on the market worldwide. In 2017, Fazer, one of Finland's oldest food companies, launched "the world's first-ever cricket bread" that uses flour from 70 crushed crickets. In 2019 Roberts Bakery, has become the first in the UK to launch a loaf of bread made from hundreds of crickets.


Despite that, the question of prevalence remains open. According to Mintel, in the UK, only 11% of consumers are interested in trying food products made with insects.


Will eating insects be one of the food trend posts we write about in the future? Lobster, an expensive food today, in the past was considered "disgusting" as well. Who's to say we can't have the same attitude about eating insects?