- Water-soluble extracts of edible grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets have an antioxidant capacity five times greater than fresh orange juice, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
- The researchers from Italy's University of Teramo concluded edible insects and invertebrates "represent a potential source of antioxidant ingredients with an efficiency related to their taxonomy and eating habits."
- However, the researchers also said in the study that more evidence is needed to understand whether consuming insects and invertebrates could contribute to control oxidative stress, a sometimes hazardous imbalance where the body needs more antioxidants.
Although many people still find the practice of eating bugs repellent, this study showcasing its benefits could push reluctant consumers to give it a try. This isn't the first study to show the positives of eating bugs. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, insects contain proteins, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids and are regularly consumed by at least 2 billion people around the world.
In this study, researchers used ground-up insects and invertebrates with the wings, paws and stingers removed. The orange juice used for comparison in the study was freshly made with locally purchased oranges. After lab processing, the water-soluble extracts were compared for antioxidant activity and showed insects have substantially more antioxidants.
The study results could have significant implications for the insect industry. The research shows that edible insects and invertebrates are an optimal source of bioactive ingredients as well as high-quality protein, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. Other studies have also shown that it has long been healthy for humans to eat insects. With research continuing to show that it is safe and even beneficial to eat insects, it could change consumer perception.
Insects could also appeal to consumers for their environmental benefits. A recent study found that insect cells could be ideal candidates for inclusion in cultured meat and other innovative food products. Sustainable food production is becoming more important to consumers when buying products so that aspect could encourage more companies to use insects in their foods.
The researchers said the findings could also be useful from a public health standpoint if they contribute to developing scientific-based campaigns to promote insect consumption.
Despite the common aversion in Western cultures to the idea of eating insects, some companies have forged ahead in this area and included them in retail products. Chirps, Bitty Foods and Exo use crickets in various products, and the trend seems to be continuing. MOM's Organic Market started carrying some products in 2017 containing insects — or as the family-owned grocery company called it, "sustainable protein."
However, research from Wageningen University found about half of respondents don't want to consume insects in any form, regardless of whether they were an incorporated ingredient or served whole.
Whether a relatively high antioxidant level would change anyone's mind about eating grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets will be seen as news of the study spreads. Chances are many consumers would choose antioxidant-rich grain bran, coffee fruit or botanical extracts from turmeric and cranberry seed before reaching for a handful of edible insects.
Nevertheless, the segment will undoubtedly continue to see new products since there's plenty of supply, the sustainability factor is high, and the protein and nutrient claims are impressive. According to Global Market Insights, the global edible insects market could exceed $522 million by 2023, with beetles, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets making up much of the growth. As negative perceptions start to ease, this could be a lucrative area for food manufacturers.