Entomophagy: The Food of the Future | Edible Bugs and Insects

Jessica Lewis
February 10, 2017

No matter how disgusting it may seem, some insects are edible, and they can deliver amazing therapeutic benefits. An impressive 2 billion people around the world enjoy them on a daily basis. People from Asia, Africa, and Latin America eat insects for over a thousand years and among the most consumed species are bees, beetles, caterpillars, and ants. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) consider that eating insects is a healthy way of benefiting from all the nutrients our body needs.

There are so many things we can do in order to achieve a healthy living. If we consider how precious our health is, any action we take to protect it against diseases is more than welcome. For some people it may be enough to pay attention to their diet, to give up processed foods and eat as many fruits and vegetables as they can, while others are willing to do much more to have an energetic and healthy body.  Not even eating insects cannot stop someone from doing everything he can to be healthy.

Entomophagy is a term that refers to the use of insects as food. According to FAO, there are 1900 edible insect species, and entomophagy can be a solution to the environmental pollution. In many cultures eating insects is in thing. The consumed species include 344 beetles, 235 butterflies, 39 termites, 20 dragonflies and 239 crickets, cockroaches and grasshoppers. In Western culture, eating insects is not well perceived by everyone. There are a few restaurants and small companies that offer edible insects, but chances are this will change.[1]

Why Should We Eat Insects?

Different types of edible insects are an excellent source of nutrients that our body needs to work properly. As a report of FAO shows, adult locusts and grasshoppers contain a high amount of protein that we can compare to the content of protein in raw beef, but without the unwanted cholesterol and calories. Insects are also an excellent source of minerals and vitamins, including zinc, iron, niacin, calcium and thiamine. It is enough to eat only 100 grams of crickets to get 13 grams of protein and 76 grams of iron, but only 49 calories from fat.[2]

A significant benefit of consuming insects is their lack of hormones and harmful compounds that can affect our health. Insects are healthier because they aren’t treated as livestock. Moreover, insects are eco-friendly, because they don’t emit ammonia and methane like traditional livestock. Not only that insects emit less harmful gasses than livestock, but are easier to transport and affordable. It is cheaper to rear insects than animals and healthier, too, because they transmit fewer diseases. Also, it can be an advantageous way to use organic waste. The Netherlands has invested $1.3 million in finding ways to raise edible insects using food waste.

Insects are a smart choice for everyone, especially for people who want to lose weight, to build muscle mass and to increase their nutritious intake. Probably it seems hard to believe that insects can compile a tasty meal, but there are delicious ways to cook them, to delight our taste buds and support our health with their remarkable nutritious qualities.

Grasshoppers – a healthy alternative to chicken      

cooked_grasshoppers_300x304Grasshoppers are common in areas with grasslands and appreciated for their content filled with vitamins and minerals. In many places in Asia and India, you can find grasshoppers, whether it is a restaurant or a street market-display. People eat them because they contain considerable amounts of vitamins, but are low in fats and cholesterol. Therefore, 100 grams of grasshoppers contain 20.6 grams of proteins, 3.9 grams of carbohydrates and 6.1 grams of fats. Also, they are a healthy alternative to chicken, beef and other types of meat, as well as fish and other seafood.

The amount of proteins from grasshopper depends on the species. According to the book, “Insects” by Steve Parker, the content of proteins from grasshoppers varies from 50 percent of the dry weight to almost 60 percent. Some species of proteins don’t contain complete proteins because they are free of methionine, which is an amino acid that human body cannot produce. Other important ingredients found in grasshopper are phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, thiamine, riboflavin, iodine, iron, niacin and calcium.

Because they are poor in carbohydrates, are perfect for different types of diets, including for Atkins and Paleo diets. Eating cooked grasshoppers is not so difficult since some people describe their taste as being similar to smoky bacon. As the FAO claims, they offer therapeutic benefits, such as reducing the risks of heart diseases, due to their high content of unsaturated fats.[3]

Termites – wood’s enemy, but friends of a healthy heart

Usually, people try to get rid of termites, but not those from South America and Africa. Here people appreciate them for their rich content of iron, calcium, amino acids, such as tryptophan and essential fatty acids. Whether they dry them under the hot sun rays or they fry and steam them in banana leaves, people enjoy having termites as a snack or as an important ingredient of their meal. It is true that termites can cause serious damage in urban and rural areas, but they can be an excellent source of food for humans and livestock, too.

In modern medicine, people use termites to treat different respiratory diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, but also influenza and sinusitis. Those courageous enough to eat termites can enjoy their beneficial nutrients. About 49 percent of their body composition consists of healthy unsaturated fats that are good for the cardiovascular system. Therefore, eating termites is not good only for enriching your culinary experience, but also for improving the functioning of your heart.

Mopane Caterpillars – richer in iron than beef

mopane_caterpillars_300x454We know that beef is one of the richest sources of iron, but surprisingly, an insect-like mopane caterpillars can be even richer. Mopane caterpillars are the larger stage of the emperor moth (Gonibrasia Belina). In the south of Africa is common to harvest mopane caterpillars. After being boiled in salted water, they are sun-dried, because this way they last for several months.

If 100 grams of beef contain 6mg of iron, 100 grams of mopane caterpillars contain 31mg of iron. Because children in some areas in Africa suffer from iron deficiency, mopane caterpillars are an important part of their diet. Also, they are a rich source of zinc, copper, manganese and magnesium, according to FAO. A mopane caterpillar offers an outstanding amount of protein of 48 to 61 percent.

You can eat them soon after they are dried, or you can soak them in water, up to four hours before cooking. One they become juicy, you can fry them or add them to a stew. Even though is not normal for westerners to eat mopane caterpillars, those who had tried them compare their taste with burned steak or with butter and peanuts. It is true that eating mopane caterpillars is not the most common thing in the world for all of us, but it is also true that they are both delicious and nutritious.

African Palm Weevil – a delicacy for some African tribes

African-Palm-Weevil-250x312Among the weirdest delicacies around the world, we find African palm weevil (Rhynchophorus phoenicis). People collect the weevils off the trunks of palm trees and eat them raw or fried in a pan. Having 10 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide, weevils are full of fats, but they also contain essential nutrients. According to a report from the Journal of Insect Science from 2011, the African palm weevil is a primary source of zinc, phosphorus, potassium, several amino acids and healthy monosaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

As it showed a report of FAO in 2013, palm weevils have similar amounts of proteins as beef but are richer than bovine in iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and several amino acids. Due to their richness in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, African palm weevils are the key to eradicating hunger and nutrition problems that people from poor areas of Africa have to face. Besides, including these insects in their diet is more achievable than convincing them to use supplements with iron or proteins, the most common nutritional deficiencies faced by the people of Namibia and other similar areas.

If insects like African palm weevils are a necessity for some people, for other are just a delicacy. Their interesting taste situates them among the tastiest foods among African tribes.

Beetles – one of the richest insect sources of protein

If you enjoy eating insects and your body needs more protein, there is only one thing you should do – eat beetles. As National Geographic claims, beetles are among the insects that contain the highest amount of protein. A giant water beetle contains about 20 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces, while the same amount of June beetle offers 13.4 proteins. They are for times richer in protein than kidney beans, but also contain considerable amounts of iron, calcium, and zinc.

People in the rural areas of Thailand prefer water beetles over other insects because they are easy to find and harvest, but also because they taste delicious and have a delicious flavor. Due to their nutritive properties, children from Asian countries, such as Thailand, are taught how to grow beetles and red ants in school. In U.S. beetles are good not only as a healthy and nutritious food but also for keeping in control in wetland areas other populations of insects.

Red Ants – Rich in Proteins and Low in Fats


Just as Asian children are taught in schools how to harvest beetles, they are also taught how to collect red ants. Unlike beetles, red ants are difficult to collect, because they are smaller and not so easy to notice. Easterners use both red ants and their eggs as part of their diet. Similar to any other insects, they contain important amounts of proteins but are poor in fats. With less cholesterol than pork and beef, ants are rich in minerals, such as iron and calcium. According to National Geographic, 3.5 ounce serving of red ants contains about 14 grams of protein, 5.7 milligrams of iron and no cholesterol.  5.7 milligrams of iron represents around 71 percent of the 8 milligrams a healthy individual needs per day. Also, it represents one-third of the amount women need each day. In Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Canada, people use red ant eggs to prepare a delicious soup. According to the Ministry of Health of Thailand, one hundred grams of red ant eggs contain 4.6 grams of fiber, 40 milligrams of calcium, 10.4 milligrams of iron, 230 milligrams of phosphorus and 5.7 milligrams of niacin.

Crickets – a popular ingredient in Asian dishes

fried-edible-crickets-350x350Asians are famous for eating all types of unusual foods, such as a wide range of insects appreciated for their rich content in nutrients. Crickets are among the popular ingredients we can find on the menu in some Asian countries, such as Thailand. Crickets are rich in proteins and lipids, as well as in minerals and vitamins. It is true that they contain fat, but it is healthy and unsaturated fat that helps our body.  Crickets contain more iron than spinach, more B12 than salmon or beef, more calcium than milk and nine times more Omega than wild salmon. Crickets are also richer in magnesium, zinc, and B6, which are important for better sleep and support overall health. In 100 milligrams of crickets, we find 1.44 grams of histidine, 2.59 grams of isoleucine, 3.61 grams of lysine, 4.61 grams of leucine, 1.09 grams of methionine, 3.70 grams of valine, 2.37 grams of threonine, 0.56 grams of tryptophan and 0.51 grams of cysteine.  A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food

Chemistry shows that crickets are more nutritious, but also their nutrients are more soluble and better uptake than the vitamins and minerals from beef and wheat. Due to their remarkable nutritive composition, they are a whole food.

Stink Bugs – Stinky, but healthy

It ‘s hard to think of stink bugs as food, but they are consumed throughout South America, Africa, and Asia. These insects are rich in important nutrients, such as iron, phosphorus, potassium and proteins. Since they stink, it isn’t a good idea to eat them raw, unless their head is removed. A good idea is to consume them roasted because it will eliminate the smell and keep their nutritive qualities.  The stink bug, also known as “harurwa” is consumed in south-eastern districts of Zimbabwe and many tribes appreciated it as an important food.  Different studies encourage its use because it is a source of important nutrients, such as fatty acids and flavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties. Therefore, eating stink bugs help us protect our body from the harmful action of free radicals.

Making Bugs Taste Delicious

There are many ways to make the most delicious dishes using bugs. We can cook grasshoppers like in Mexico, by toasting them on a comal, which is a traditional Mexican griddle. We can add flavor by using chill and lime. The result – you can enjoy a delicious and crunchy source of protein. Chefs from the western restaurants cook one of the most delicious dishes having insects as the star ingredient. As they prove, it is easy to make them taste amazing, using simple ingredients, especially spices to give them flavor.

People who have tasted insects noticed that they work perfectly in bread, cookies, dips and muffins. Also, you can find insects candied or covered in chocolate. The important thing is that we can eat insects not only because they are nutritious, but also because they are delicious.  It will take time before we look at a bowl of crispy crickets like if it was a beef steak, but it is possible. It is enough to get used of adding bugs to the products we consume with pleasure.

Why are Insects a Superfood?

Human population continues to grow, which makes it difficult to provide food for billions of people. Numerous experts believe that people will have only one choice – to eat insects. More research and discoveries show the benefits of eating insects and how they can become the food of the future. We can see shortly foods made of insects, such as bars, cereals, and snacks. The market for insect-based food products is increasing more and more every day. We have different restaurants, especially those serving Latin American and Asian cuisine that include insects on their menu.

The billions of people who eat insects have satisfied palates. They eat insects as a delicacy and not for lack of food. So, people gladly serve maize porridge with termites in South Africa, chapulin (spicy grasshopper tacos) in Mexico or dragonflies boiled in coconut milk. People in the Democrat Republic of Congo eat caterpillars as traditional food, and in the US they use cricket protein in different products, including energy bars, cookies and snacks.

Insects can contribute to the security of the global food. The document released by the FAO advocates the benefits of rearing insects as food for both humans and animals. They can be the perfect food in the future, even in the poor regions of the world. Eating them can provide a balanced diet for people in disadvantaged areas. As the FAO claims, if we replace all sources of livestock proteins and livestock feed with edible insects, we can reduce the gas emissions by 18 percent. Also, we can reduce the prices for food by 30 percent.

By replacing beef, fish, fowl and pork with edible bugs and insects, we can protect the planet and reduce the negative effects of livestock on the climate. Also, it will be the perfect solution for solving the difficulties poor people have to face in disadvantaged areas.
If people manage to overcome the yuk feeling they experience when they think of eating insects, they can enjoy a healthy and tasty food. The chances are that edible insects can be the food of the future.

Whether we eat bugs for their taste or out of necessity, consuming them will grow in popularity. We will see more and more people including them in their diet. So, eating bugs can become a culinary trend in the future, a trend that people everywhere will gladly embrace.

FDA Regulations for Insects as Human Food

There are no specific regulations concerning the consumption of insects. The fact that there is no clear legislation referring to the use of insects as food is the only obstacle that prevents the developed countries to accept the farming insects as a source of supplying both the food and the feed sectors.

There is one regulation that states that the producers must declare the Latin names of the insects on the label. People allergic to shellfish could also be allergic to insects, so the product’s labels must have mentioned that they include allergenic ingredients. When the FDA will begin to analyze insects as a food source, things will be bright, and they will start to gain popularity, as they deserve.

Eating Bugs – not only healthy but also a culinary delight

If you want to enlarge your culinary experience, eating bugs is quite a challenge. Insects are not very appetizing, but if cooked properly, can be a delight for both your palate and your eyes. Just seeing a bowl of roasted crickets can be enough to draw your attention and make you eager to savor them. So, next time you’re on Asian lands and have the opportunity to enjoy a bowl of cockroaches, don’t hesitate. It can be an experience you will never forget! Nevertheless, edible bugs hold the secret of a healthy body and mind, as well as for a better world, with less pollution and a healthier environment.