New study shows that edible insects could avoid global food crisis

Posted: 2 July 2019 | | No comments yet

A new study states that edible insects could be a viable source of protein if preconceptions about them can be overcome.

Food preparation using cricket garnish and ground cricket (credit: all photos were taken by Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne and Alan-Javier Hernández-Álvarez during an 'Insect Technological Venue' at the University of Veracruz with Chef Mario Melgarejo).

A new study from the University of Leeds and University of Veracruz in Mexico have reviewed current insect farming methods, processing technologies and commercialisation techniques, as well as current perceptions towards entomophagy – the practice of eating insects.

The study highlights that the benefits of increasing insect consumption have been explored, but not the technological and processing approaches that can help achieve this goal. The study also empasises that commercialisation and processing techniques that focus on the preferences of the younger generation is the best way to normalise it.

“Edible insects could be the solution to the problem of how to meet the growing global demand for food in a sustainable way,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr Alan-Javier Hernández-Álvarez, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds. “The ‘ick factor’ remains one of the biggest barriers to edible insects becoming the norm.” 

Compared to meat production, insect farming uses smaller amounts of land, water and feed, and it is possible to cultivate them in urban areas. It also produces fewer greenhouse gases. However, more development is needed in large-scale farming.

Increasing demand could create a bottleneck in the production of more edible insects in an economically efficient, safe and sustainable matter. The lack of availability creates accessibility issues and therefore reduces opportunities for increasing trade. There is significant need for a technological leap from wild harvesting to indoor farming.  

Improvements to edible insect farming and processing techniques could also open the door for increasing the use of insects for other purposes. Chitin extracted from certain insect exoskeletons has the potential for use in food preservation. It also has a number of industrial applications such as surgical thread and as a binder used in glue.  

“Refining extraction technologies could make insects a feasible and sustainable option for replacing some currently available functional ingredients,” continued Dr Hernández-Álvarez. “These aspects should be a focus of future research and technological development.”

The report was published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety.

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