Consuming insects as food is a practice more common than we seem to realize. Many countries in Africa, Asia, and Australia have people who are content with consuming insects as a part of their diet; some might even consider it a delicacy. Such practice is termedas entomophagy. It is not common in western countries, especially in North America and Europe. It is believed that about 2 million people worldwide consume insects as a part of their diet. It is also believed that the pre-historic human beings, who did not have equipment for farming or hunting might have been entomophagous.
More than 1,900 species of insects have been describedas edible for human beings, most of them commonly found in the tropical areas. Some groups of insects that are most commonly usedas food include grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, cicadas, termites, dragonflies, and beetles.
There are many advantages of consuming insects over the staple meat we consume. Insects are healthy and nutritious; theycan serve as an alternative to meat like chicken, pork, beef, and fish. Insects are rich in proteins, fiber, and many essential nutrients including minerals, vitamins, and omega fats. They contain good quantities of calcium, iron, and zinc. Insects have another advantage, providing nutrients without harmful effects on the environment as compared to livestock. Insects are cold-blooded and therefore require much less feed and do not produce greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment. Only a few species of insects, like cockroaches, produce methane which may cause environmental harm. Insects can also be fedon organic waste streams. Harvesting insects for food are referredto as mini-livestock. It can be very advantageous, requiring very low capital investment and produces many benefits. It doesn’t even require much land clearing compared to other livestock like pigs or cattle.
The most frequently consumed insect species are beetles, followed by moths and butterflies. In western countries, increased efforts are being made to include insects in the diet by large-scale insect food producers. They are considering house crickets, mealwormsand buffalo worms for industrialized mass production. Nutritionally, insect proteins are comparable to soybeans. Insects provide proteins with less calorie and fat content compared to beef, and they also have very high iron content.
Insect food products are the newer alternatives for gross lookinginsects. Insect food products include insect flour, produced from freeze-driedand powdered insects, insect burgers with patties made from insect powder, insect fitness bars, insect pasta, and insect bread.
There are certain food safety concerns with the consumption of insects. The majority of these concerns are the possible infestation of parasites, zoonotic diseases, high bacterial counts, heavy metal contamination, allergic substances, and chemicals producing ill effects on the body.
Zoonotic diseases are diseasesthat are sharedbetween humans and animals. In recent times, newer variants of the influenza A virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome virus (SARS) have led to pandemics. In the present day world, the riskof an infection spreading from a localized population to become a global pandemic is much higher than in the past. Many animals act as reservoirs for pathogens causing human infection and livestock may carry these infections to humans. Meat from live stock which may carry pathogens is subjected to production, processing, and the retail environment which alters their microbiological flow rates. Insect food, on the other hand, has not been studied sufficiently to determine their risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases.
Some basic precautions might need to be followed while considering insects for consumption:
Avoid bright and colorful insects
Keep away from pesticide-sprayed areas
Do not consume insects that are pungent or smelly
Avoid insects that are hairy as they may have hidden stingers
Do not consume snails and slugs or any insect that feeds on poisonous plants
Cook all insects before consumption to avoid infections and parasites
Mini-livestock from insects has the potential to supply nations for global food security. They are rich in animal nutrients and easily available, especially in the context of developing countries. They have great potential for maintaining and adding to the food supply chain for the ever-increasing human population.