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What the bug? An alternative source of protein

Throughout the world and for millenia insects have been eaten by many as a regular part of their diets. From ants to beetle larvae to the popular crispy-fried locusts and beetles, it is estimated that at least 2 billion people worldwide regularly eat insects. Common in many other (food) cultures, insects only made a recent appearance in the Western and Finnish food scene.

“Ew, what is that?!”

The reasons insects failed to gain traction in the West, have historical roots and started with the domestication of a wide variety of animals. The benefits of using mammals -  such as big amounts of meat, warmth, milk products, leather, wool, farming aid and means of transport - could simply not be offered by insects. Only honey bees, silkworms and scale insects had beneficial uses. As a consequence of this domestication, Western agriculture experienced incredible gains in productivity and efficiency. Food could now be stored and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle turned to a sedentary way of life dependent on farming. This change in lifestyle combined with the uncertain nature of insects as a staple food because of their seasonality, made sure there was a loss of interest in insects as a source of food.

This transition to the sedentary agriculture resulted in the perception of insects as a nuisance and threat to food production, where undomesticated food sources were were considered less important. As eating insects has not become very widespread in Western cultures, it has been mainly perceived negatively and with feelings of disgust. Further urbanization contributed to the fact people are out of touch with nature compared to other more rural cultures. Harvesting insects is associated with the hunter-gatherer era and with a “primitive” way of acquiring food.

Most of us are reluctant to even consider eating insects and feelings of disgust after seeing insects being prepped as a snack or meal are mostly followed by questions: “What is it?” or “Where has it been?”. These reactions of disgust are rooted in our culture, which has a major effect on our food habits. Disgust is one of our most basic emotions and nothing triggers it more than strange food of others. Yet the reaction does not seem to be rationally grounded.  

Benefits of eating insects

Why should we consider taking up insects as a part of our daily eating habits? The main components of insects are protein, fat and fibre - essential nutrients for the human body. The nutritional values of insects and beef are very comparable. Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.

Nutritional value (per 100g)

Beef

Grasshopper

Protein (in grams)

26g

20.6g

Fats (in grams)

18g

6.1g

Calcium (in milligrams)

13mg

35.2mg

Iron (in milligrams)

3.5mg

5mg

In Western societies protein is still largely derived from domesticated animals. Eating insects can be promoted for 3 reasons:

  • Healthy: insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream protein sources such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish.
  • Environmental: insects promoted as food emit significantly less greenhouse gases than most livestock. Besides that insect breeding requires considerable less land activity, very little water and less feeding.
  • Economical and social: Harvesting insects can be a low-tech and low-capital investment option. Insects provide us with other valuable products such as honey and silk.

It is clear that insects are a sustainable and ecologically viable food source, while being an excellent alternative source of nutrition. Western attitudes are slowly changing and recognizing this fact and begin to build on it, rather than discouraging or ignoring the practice. One company in Finland has put the word into practice.

Chocolate covered insect goodies

A Finnish company that has been very successful in spreading and promoting high quality and tasty insect food is Entis. Starting in January 2017, the company quickly launched its first product - 20 grams of dried Finnish house crickets. Not as simple as it sounds, given that at the time of the release insects were not legally speaking food.

Their hard work in the new field of insect food paid off sooner than expected when insects were legalized and approved for human consumption in September 2017. Entis products were soon to be found on the shelves of Finland’s biggest grocery stores, such as Prisma, Ruohonjuuri-stores nationwide and a selected number of Life-stores and K-Markets.

insect chocolate snack

Made and produced in Finland, you can choose between three chocolate goodies: Milk Chocolate Crickets, White Chocolate Yoghurt Crickets and Salty Liquorice Chocolate Crickets. The sweet flavour and chocolate lower the “ew” threshold right away and makes the insect snack more accessible. The crickets come from Finnish cricket farms and the chocolate crickets are produced at the Kultasuklaa factory in Iittala. Tasty cricket chocolates are only the beginning and new products of the Entis product family will be released during Spring 2018.

In conclusion, historical and cultural factors are behind our - mainly negative - attitude towards insect food. But it is slowly changing and the production of insect food is evolving, possibly becoming part of our future diets. FuelMe customers will find a nice sample of Entis’ chocolate crickets with their delivery tomorrow. How will you like them?


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