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Insects as the Food of the Future

Could eating bugs ever go mainstream?

chocolated covered bugs

The next big thing could be bugs.

At least that’s what experts on two panel discussions at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo in New Orleans think. They see insects as a promising, economically viable alternative source of high quality protein that leave a substantially smaller environmental footprint.

No, seriously.

“Insects require less feed, less water, less land, and less energy to produce and their production generates substantially lower environmental pollutants, such as pesticides and greenhouse gases,” says Aaron Dossey, Ph.D., founder/owner of All Things Bugs LLC, in Gainesville, Florida, a company that provides protein-rich insect powder for commercial use.

And some entrepreneurs, such as Patrick Crowley are making it happen. Crowley is the founder of Chapul Cricket Bars, the first company in the United States to use insects as source of nutrition. At Chapul, he is directly challenging the existing perceptions of insects as food by producing, marketing, and selling an energy bar, in a variety of flavors, made with high-protein cricket powder.

“It’s an exciting time to be the forefront of this budding industry,” Crowley says.

While insects are considered tasty and nutritious in other countries, including Thailand, Mexico and Uganda, Americans are less enthusiastic about eating bugs.

“We have to overcome the ‘ick’ factor,” says Laurie Keeler, senior manager - food product development, the Food Processing Center, University of Nebraska.  “It’s a cultural barrier that has to be overcome. We have spent a lot of time worried about insects getting into food; now we want to encourage eating insects as food.”

Most insects are a rich source of high-quality, highly digestible protein.

“Some insects are as much as 80 percent protein by weight and provide more essential amino acids than most animal proteins,” Dossey says. “They are also rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids.” On a dry weight basis, crickets contain as much omega-3 fatty acids as salmon.

“Western cultures’ aversion to the use of edible insects as a food source is a serious issue in human nutrition,” says  Florence Dunkel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Entomology at Montana State University and editor of Food Insects Newsletter. “But it’s the way forward into a sustainable world environment.”

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