According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 1900 edible insect species exist globally. Some of these insect species are already part of the everyday diet in many countries and are vital sources of proteins and other nutrients.
While it may not seem very common to consider eating bugs, there are a surprisingly high number of types that are considered a delicacy by many people around the world. Edible insects can be a more sustainable source of proteins than traditional meats like beef and chicken. Additionally, they are richer in protein than most of the meat eaten more traditionally, and often even tastier.
As we all want healthy bodies, what we eat is a crucial factor. That’s why introducing edible insects is a healthier, more sustainable option.
Why Try Edible Insects Instead of Traditional Meats?
The current agro-systems that produce our daily proteins put a lot of pressure on the environment. According to another study by the U.N., modern agriculture is a significant source of global carbon emissions, accounting for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This percentage is more than what airplanes and vehicles collectively produce.
By the end of the 21st century, the global human population is estimated to hit over 10 billion. To sustain such a huge population, more forest cover will have to make way for agriculture. This means more unfriendly methods of agriculture, hence more carbon emissions. To avoid such crises, it’s best to shift to more eco-friendly sources of proteins such as edible insects.
Replacing the meats we eat today will contribute to consequently reducing carbon emissions.
Edible Insects are Rich in Nutrients
Edible insects have a higher protein content than beef and chicken. On average, edible insects contain about 60% protein content, while beef and chicken contain 54% and 43%, respectively. Only fish with 81% protein content surpasses bugs. Besides proteins, edible insect meats have a higher ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids.
By switching from chicken, pork, lamb, and beef to edible insects, you will increase your healthy fat intake. According to Science Direct, edible insects are richer in vitamins than conventional meats.
Due to these reasons, you should look towards edible insects as an alternative source of proteins. It’s an excellent means to counter the hard impacts of modern agriculture on the planet and provide a better source of pure proteins.
Here are some of the best edible insects with desirable protein content and other nutrients:
Eating crickets has a huge benefit on your gut health. Adult crickets are a great source of vitamin B12, proteins, and iron. They are a delicacy in most Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.
If you don’t want to feel the crunching and crushing, you can prefer cricket flour. This flour is made from ground crickets, is very high in proteins, and has similar cooking properties when baking, to wheat flour. It’s advisable not to eat raw crickets as they carry nematodes.
While the Asian giant hornet is known to be poisonous, it’s a great delicacy when cooked. In many Japanese villages, locals hold hornet festivals where people compete to make the largest catches possible, while others buy some to cook at home.
Giant hornets are drowned in a clear beverage named ‘Shochu’ which absorbs the venom. After that, it can be cooked as regular meat or used to make cocktails.
Beetles are among the most popular edible insects. They are rich in minerals such as iron and calcium as well as vitamins and proteins, and thanks to their crunchiness, they make tasty dishes. You can eat a beetle in its larvae or adult stage. They are more edible in the larvae stage as they develop hard exoskeletons during their adult stage.
The rhinoceros, dung, and long-horned beetles are the most commonly eaten varieties. They can either be roasted and eaten like popcorn or boiled and deep-fried like ordinary meats.
In parts of China and Southeast Asia, beetles are eaten for their anti-diuretic effects. The best thing about beetles is that they are relatively safe to harvest and have no venom.
Grasshoppers are rich in protein content and can be found almost everywhere. These edible insects provide a variety of nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants and are a common delicacy in numerous countries. In Uganda, for example, grasshoppers are in such high demand that a kilo of them costs more than a kilo of beef. In Mexico, chapulines are a common staple. These grasshoppers are roasted and seasoned with lime and chile powder to make a classic snack.
There are various types of grasshoppers that you shouldn’t eat. Avoid the brightly colored ones such as the eastern lubber found in most southern states such as Texas.
We all know the damage that termites can do to your home. But did you know that they can be a rich source of protein? Termites are extremely rich in fatty acids, proteins, calcium, and iron.
While mature termites have wings and can fly, you can catch more of them in their non-flying stages, i.e., larvae, workers, nymphs, soldiers, and queens. You will find termites in deadwood, broken fences, and deserted farmhouses.
The flying termites, which come out of anthills during rainy seasons, are by far the tastiest of all. They fly at night and move towards light sources. In Kenya, flying termites are a great source of protein, especially in the festive December season.
To eat a flying termite, all you need is to capture plenty of them and roast them in a pan to remove the wings. Once you remove the wings, you can eat them roasted or fried in oil.
Ants are a great delicacy while in their larva and pupa stages. Most ant species have a pleasant taste and vinegar-like flavor that makes them excellent food. In parts of South America such as Brazil and Colombia, queen ants are a popular delicacy and are said to boost libido.
Before eating ants, you can boil them and fry them to make a decent meal. You can still have them raw if you don’t mind the sour taste. They are easy to harvest; all you need is to insert a stick inside an anthill, and they will come to the surface.
Mealworms have a great taste and nutritional profile. These insects are not worms but larvae of the darkling beetle. Recently, the EU ruled that mealworms are safe to eat, even though they’ve already been popular dishes among communities in different parts of the world.
Mealworms have high contents of protein, fiber, and fats on par with fish. Dried mealworms taste like almonds and can be used in smoothies as well.
Maggots are traditional superfoods. The edible maggots are rich in fats, amino acids, and vitamins and are more nutritionally valuable than meat and chicken. When eating maggots, you should cook them well so you don’t end up with bacterial poisoning.
Giant Water Bug
While water bugs (also known as water scorpions) inflict serious bites, they are great sources of proteins. They are generally safe for human consumption.
In Thailand, giant water bugs are lightly boiled and fried to make tasty snacks. In some parts, locals use it as an additive to main dishes as it produces a uniquely sweet aroma.
Cicadas are safe to eat as long as you don’t have a seafood allergy, as per the FDA. They compare to crickets in terms of nutritional value, as they are high in proteins and low in fat. They are crunchy and have shrimp and lobster-like qualities and a nutty flavor.
Young cicadas are the best as their bodies are soft and easy to cook. You can sauté or deep-fry them if you want a tasty meal.
When swarming in large armies, locusts can be highly destructive. They can eat more than their own body weight in a day. However, they make a great meal and are a great delicacy in most parts of the world. They are among the edible insects with the highest protein content. Not only do they have great protein content, but they are also tasty.
Greeks grind locusts to get fine flour, while in Morocco, people fry the lower halves as that’s where eggs are stored and tend to be very nutritious. During the recent locust migration in East Africa, many Kenyan locals harvested in bags and stored them in bulk for future consumption.
Locusts swarm in millions, and collecting them is an easy task, as you can have over 40 million of them in a square kilometer. You can fry, smoke, or cook them like ordinary meats. All you need is to remove the wings and legs and you are good to go.
If you have eaten raw, unprocessed honey, you have probably ingested some bees. Yes, bees are edible insects but do not taste near as sweet as the honey they produce. In most parts of South America, Africa, and Asia, local communities harvest and eat bees while in their immature stages.
The downside of eating bees is that it has a counter-effect on sustainability. Bees are agents of pollination and help in crop production. Therefore, it’s not advisable to turn to bees as a permanent source of protein, except for once-in-a-while instances.
Pill bugs are edible insects found rotting pieces of wood and under rocks. Like many insects, they are most tasty when fried or roasted. Besides, they have a shrimp-like taste and are sometimes referred to as ‘land shrimps.’
You can easily collect pill bugs on rock and wood and turn them into food. They carry nematodes, and you have to ensure they are thoroughly cooked.
They sting hard, but scorpions are great sources of proteins. In China, they are typical street food and have lots of proteins.
To eat a scorpion, you have to cut the stinger, usually the tail section, and dissect it in half to get rid of all venom. Cooking eliminates any venomous effects that scorpions could have, so ensure you’ve cooked them enough.
Safety Tips When Eating Edible Insects
Edible insects are more sustainable sources of proteins, but you have to be extremely cautious before eating them. Not all insect species are safe for consumption. Here are a few safety tips to guide you before eating edible insects:
Cut the Fingers- They Tend to be Poisonous
It’s preferable to cut the fingers, legs, and tentacles as they tend to be poisonous. While this is not true for all insects, it puts you at a lesser risk of food poisoning and other digestion complications.
Prefer Cooking than Eating Raw
Some insects are edible while raw, but it’s always a good idea to cook them. Some carry nematodes while others stay in unhealthy habitats, and this may cause stomach upsets. Besides, insects are tastier when roasted or fried than when ingested raw.
Parasites are considered unhealthy for human consumption, and it’s best to stay away from them. Most parasites carry diseases and could get you ill. You should avoid parasitic insects such as lice, ticks, flies, and fleas, and any other insect that gets their food from other animals.
Avoid Brightly Colored Insects
Brightly colored insects are toxic and unsafe for consumption. The bright colors expose them to predators, and as a result, use their venom to scare them away.
Always Do Your Research
Before ingesting anything, it’s a great idea to do some homework. Most edible insects have inedible variants that could harm you. Always ensure that the specific species in your location are edible.
The Bottom Line
There you have a list of edible insects that you can substitute for ordinary meats. All you need is to ensure you catch the right insects that cannot harm your body. This way, you can have a more sustainable alternative to meat and chicken.