Could more appetites for insects reshape the food industry? There are plenty of reasons to believe in the future of bugs.
A report released in May by the United Nations called for an increase in edible insect farming, saying that bugs—a common source of nutrition for as many as two billion people—could become a staple of Western diets by 2050. Despite reportedly being an excellent source of protein, many consumers in the West still suffer from a considerable “yuck” factor when eating creatures commonly considered to be pests.
(Image credit: Flickr user George Arriola)
There have, however, been developments in recent years that normalized the consumption of insects to an extent. The TV show "Fear Factor," though capitalizing on that gross-out factor, featured contestants eating a variety of insects, arachnids and other bugs. Restaurants, like New York City’s Toloache, have even sold foodies on such culinary curiosities as grasshopper tacos, and “Bug Chef” David George Gordon’s "Eat-A-Bug Cookbook" was recently revised and reprinted.
Most recently, this past week at IFT 2013, Scotland’s Head of Energy and Environmental Foresight David Robson presented the idea that the nutritional value and small ecological impact of insects make them an ideal dietary option for both humans and livestock—going so far as to suggest they could be re-branded, like one Australian cookbook did when it referred to locusts as “sky prawns.”
With this in mind, we put together a list of five companies that are ahead of the curve in their attempts to sell consumers on an entomophagous diet.
The London-based start-up Ento is banking on the idea that Western consumers will be more likely to embrace the coming age of mass insect ingestion if their meal no longer looks like a creepy-crawly. Several prototypes have already been developed, including honey caterpillar croquettes and a dried cricket mince.
The food’s design is inspired by an Asian aesthetic and chopsticks are included in its minimalist packaging. Ento’s four co-founders, who met as industrial design students at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, say sushi was just as unappealing as insects to Westerners 30 years ago and that insect dishes could be a supermarket staple by 2020—30 years before the UN’s estimate. A Vimeo video details their plan to reach that goal by first hitting festivals and markets, introducing their products at to a group dubbed “adventurous eaters,” before opening an Ento restaurant to normalize the idea.
Lepsis doesn’t so much provide edible insects as it facilitates their consumption. Developed based on the idea that a utensil can change consumers’ perceptions of a food—just as knives and plastic spoons can change the perceived taste of cheese and yogurt respectively—the product is actually a stylishly designed dehydrator that cultivates and kills grasshoppers. Its creator, San Francisco-based designer Mansour Ourasanah, grew up in the African nation of Togo, where eating grasshoppers and other insects was a normal part of life. Thus, Ourasanah is something of an insect connoisseur and says grasshoppers, an excellent source of protein, are among the most palatable options.
The Lepsis device itself is based on traps that Ourasanah, who teamed with KitchenAid for its development, would build in Africa to breed large numbers of grasshoppers, and it ultimately collects the fully grown insects in a harvesting cap to be frozen and killed for consumption while new grasshoppers hatch. Time will tell if eating the bugs becomes as stylish as Ourasanah’s device.
3. WORLD ENTOMOPHAGY
Founded in 2010 by University of Georgia student Harman Singh Johar, World Entomophagy sells organically raised mealworms and crickets, and roughly 20 people around the U.S. are now involved in its operations. Johar raises the crawling confections in a temperature and humidity controlled closet in his apartment, feeding them a diet of whole grain oats and organic fruits and vegetables. This, he says, makes World Entomophagy’s crickets and mealworms heavier and tastier than any he could catch in the wild—which may also contain dangerous pesticides or parasites.
Prices start out at $12 for 100 grams of mealworms and $15 for 100 crickets, and they arrive ready to eat—whole, dead, cleaned and partially processed. According to the site’s product listings, wax worms, scorpions, stink bugs and grasshoppers are next in line to join the catalog.
“The original candy that bugs,” Hotlix has offered confections containing insects, arachnids and other bugs for over 25 years. While suckers containing everything from scorpions to worms may turn some consumers off, the Grover Beach, Calif., the company has become so successful, they’ve even developed an amber “InsectNside” candy to coincide with the Smithsonian’s amber exhibit.
(Image credit: Hotlix)
Aside from the lollipops, other candies include chocolates containing real farm ants, “Crick-ettes” and “Larvets” seasoned to taste like potato chips, and an assortment of chocolate dipped insects.
5. BUG MUSCLE
For Bug Muscle founder Dianne Guilfoyle, selling the idea of bugs as food may be a bit easier. Her nutritional supplement, made from 80% crickets and grasshoppers, is marketed, after all, to body builders, mixed martial artists and survivalists—basically, groups that are fairly open-minded to where their proteins and other nutrients come from. Honestly, have you had a whey protein shake lately? Insects probably win in both the taste and texture departments. Plus, Guilfoyle says insect-based products don’t come with the “man boobs” that those made with whey or soy sometimes results in.
Guilfoyle is reportedly in talks for a U.S. military contract, but her regular marketing of Bug Muscle at cage fights may be the key here. If one big-name fighter began promoting insect-based protein supplements and reduced the creepy-crawly stigma, would other insects-as-food items have an easier time getting into the marketplace?
Would you like to see more food and beverage industry news and information like this in your inbox on a daily basis? Subscribe to our Food Dive email newsletter! You may also want to check out Food Dive's look at the biggest problem Fareed Zakaria sees facing food.