Nope, you didn’t misread that title - bugs are indeed the new black! A Bug’s Life, Bee Movie, Spider-man... the lives of creepy, crawly critters make great movies... but there’s so much more to them than what meets the eye. While they may not win Nobel Prizes or find the cure for cancer, they are pivotal to the environment and many natural cycles. For instance, termites are professional recyclers that help by breaking down dead trees, dead leaves, and decomposing animals. We all learn about birds and bees at a very young age because they are the most important factors in pollination, the latter being the most popular, but even unexpected critters such as beetles help pollinate up to 75% of the flowering plants on earth. They’re great at pest control too! Praying mantis and ladybugs prevent crop destruction by eating harmful insects while spiders feast on those annoying insects always buzzing by your ear while you’re trying to sleep.
Insects are useful for a plethora of things, but something humans are exploring more of is trying to make them edible. In Oaxaca, southern Mexico for example, Chapulines - deep-fried grasshoppers stuffed in a corn tortilla - are a delicacy. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe in Thailand, food stalls often sell fried crickets as a snack on the streets, known as Jing lees. Many other regions incorporate bugs into traditional delicacies, and while they may not be as common in today’s era, they are slowly gaining popularity in other parts of the world too.
You may have already walked around an expo and found a booth offering you a few worms to try. What if I told you that worms in a little plastic cup aren’t the only way you’re going to be introduced to edible bugs?
For years, scientists have been trying to find an appropriate method to get consumers to eat insects. Recently, an Israeli company by the name Hargol, founded by entrepreneurs and specialists Dror Tamir, Chanan Aviv and Ben Friedman, has been commercialising products made from grasshoppers. The company produced and sold only one product up till now, their PRO72 Nutrient Rich Protein Powder, which contains 72% pure protein, mostly coming from, you guessed it, insects! Hargol’s soon to be introduced product is a packet of gummies that come in everyday flavors you’d find in your grocery store, such as orange and strawberry. The twist is that it’s made with grasshoppers. Along with this, their latest line will also feature additional products such as protein bars, burgers and falafels.
In a BBC interview in September, co-founder Dror Tamir narrated a story about how his grandmother was a cook on a kibbutz or a collective farm who had to collect and cook insects after a swarm of locusts flew in and destroyed their crops. This was apparently what inspired him to find ways to incorporate bugs into meals. When compared to beef production, locust farming reduces greenhouse emissions, water and land usage by an incredibly high amount. This is why Hargol mainly farms the migratory locusts in a solar-powered facility situated in northern Israel. Alongside migratory locusts, Hargol also cultivates the desert locust and the nsenene bush cricket. Locusts take only 29 days to reach a fully grown stage, meaning the company can breed up to 400 million of them in just a year.
Many other companies have also launched products similar to Hargol’s. Online firms in the UK such as EatGrub and Horizon Insects, or French company Ynsect also have many bug-based foods for sale, which makes you wonder, what makes insects so interesting to eat? Throughout history, insects have been a common food in many parts of the world. Ancient Romans, for example, found beetle larvae especially flavorful. It was only later when agricultural settlers started to look at bugs as crop harming pests that their image was tarnished. But our ancestors were definitely onto something. In reality, bugs are rich in many things: energy-rich fat, fiber, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. What makes them truly desirable, however, is their high amount of protein and mineral iron. Most edible bugs contain up to 80% of protein, which is considered the body’s building blocks. Their high amount in iron makes them great for preventing iron deficiency, one of the biggest nutritional deficiencies in the world today. Mealworms are also extremely rich in minerals and vitamins and contain up to 50% pure protein. Additionally, bugs could solve alimentary problems in developing countries as producing it is high yielding, small scale and relatively inexpensive. Insect farming also takes up way less land and water and emits lower greenhouse gas emissions. Producing a single gram of beef takes up 112 liters of water while producing the same amount of insect protein only takes up 23 liters. That is almost 5 times less! So as seen before in Hargol’s method of production, it’s clearly a much more eco-friendly way of food production.
So now you know that biting into a crunchy beetle may not be that bad after all! Besides, people who have tried them say their taste is quite palatable. Locusts are said to taste similar to shrimp while mealworms like roasted nuts. Some people also say that fried crickets carry a scent that mimics that of popcorn. Pretty soon, we might have to start familiarizing ourselves by seeing fried crickets instead of a generic pack of chips in the store. The only question is, would you pick it up?