Edible insects: food of the future
Climate change and a rapidly growing population are putting our planet at risk of a food security crisis. Current industrial livestock farming methods are not only unsustainable for the environment; due to the amount of land and resources they require, they’re unlikely to be able to keep up with an exploding population. But there is a solution, and it’s one that two billion people around the world already enjoy regularly: edible insects.
Edible insects have a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to meat – they need less space, less feed, less water and less time to produce. They’re also highly nutritious, being rich in protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.
As more Australians are waking up to the fact that we need to find more sustainable food solutions, a number of insect farmers and producers are cropping up around the country. The most common type of edible insect you’ll find available right now is cricket. Firstly, crickets are super-nutritious. One study found crickets pack 75 percent of the antioxidant power of fresh orange juice; another study found that eating crickets can help support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and may also reduce inflammation in the body. But perhaps more importantly, they’re one of the more appealing options.
The gateway bug
“Crickets are an easier insect to get your head around eating,” says Ruth Galloway, co-founder of The Cricket Bakery, which sells a variety of cricket flour-based baking blends, including banana bread and pancakes. “As soon as you say ‘black fly larvae’ or ‘mealworms’, the ideas in people’s heads take them to a completely different place.
“But crickets are easier for people to digest mentally. Many of us have experienced eating them abroad. That’s why we call them the ‘gateway bug’.”
Galloway first became interested in insects as food when she was looking at alternative sources of protein to feed her family. While she was a firm believer in buying only ethically-produced meats, this can be expensive. She was also concerned about how much meat her family was eating. Her research led her to crickets.
“At first it was curiosity that made me source some,” she says. “I started experimenting with them in the kitchen and got them into my family’s diet. But the more I learned about insects and how amazing they are as a food, I had this drive to let people know.”
A familiar form
Channy Sandhu, founder of Hoppa Foods which makes superfoods made from crickets, had his first taste of cricket while in Thailand. He was amazed at how tasty they were.
“The whole thing was just so mind blowing, and says. “I couldn’t work out why this wasn’t being adopted in the West if it’s so good.”
Sandhu realised that if he was going to get more Australians to start eating crickets, he needed to transition them into the Western diet in a form that people were already used to. Hoppa Foods now produces cricket pastas, flours and protein powders. It will also soon be releasing a range of cricket protein bars.
“I see this as a food of the future,” he says. “Right now, there is a choice. But I think down the line, we might not have that choice. Other foods will become harder to get or more difficult to farm. Crickets are extremely sustainable as a source of food.”
We’re getting ready
So is Australia ready for edible insects? Galloway didn’t believe so when she first started selling cricket products at markets five years ago.
“The world was not ready for bugs, to be honest,” she says. “There was a lot of intrigue, a lot of squeamish screaming; I was the crazy bug lady.”
Not to be daunted, Galloway went back to the kitchen. Along with friend Cath Riley, she founded The Cricket Bakery and launched its range of products in 2018.
“The really interesting thing is seeing how the consumer has changed over the last five years,” she says. “Initially, this was seen as a novelty product. It wasn’t taken seriously.
“But we’re now finding customers who are actively seeking us out. They know about the health benefits of edible insects, the environmental benefits and sustainability benefits.”
Sandhu says that, while it’s still a challenge to convince some people to eat insects, the tide is turning. The current pandemic has even helped Hoppa Foods in this regard.
“We found that now people are looking for new sources of nutritious food,” he says. “And with some of the flours running out in supermarkets, our flour sales went up.
“In lockdown people have been doing more baking and experimenting with cooking. It’s given us a window where people who’ve not necessarily gone for it before have gone for it.”
The Cricket Bakery is also seeing new customers emerge, and has even had customers referred to them by naturopaths. Crickets contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs. This means they make a healthier alternative to whey protein that’s also better absorbed by the body. Many vegetarians are also seeking the products out. Crickets are a great source of vitamin B12, which can be difficult to obtain from a plant-based diet.
“I think we’ve got a much more educated consumer base,” Galloway says. “People know what they’re looking for these days. They’re much more aware of where their food comes from, and what they’re putting in their body. We also know the effect of intensive animal farming, and I think people are increasingly looking for alternatives.”