Insects have been consumed by human beings since the prehistoric times. Insect-eating, also known as entomophagy, is a practice that is actually common in many parts of the world, including America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. The types of insects that are eaten around the world vary in both species and sizes. They include worms, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and spiders. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced that there are 1,900 species of edible insects, and that there are around 2 billion insect consumers worldwide. More surprising is the fact that those 2 billion people eat insects as part of their regular diet.
In regions that we call ‘developed world’ — mostly including the Western civilization, such as Europe and America — insect consumers are rare. However, historical records show that the ancient Western civilization also had a distinct appetite for insects. Ancient Greeks, for example, treated cicadas as an excellent food ingredient, and it is known that Romans considered beetle larvae as a great delicacy.
A theory goes that losing the taste for insects has much to do with the development of agriculture. As ancestors began to settle, they started growing crops and domesticating animals. This might have led people to see insects as mere pests and began rejecting them. Also, as access to food through meat and vegetables became available, people started distancing themselves from insects, and insects became creatures that were somewhat disgusting when fused with food. As urban life developed, more people saw insects as a ‘gross factor’.
However, insects have started to enter, or rather, re-enter the culinary world of developed nations. As the number of consumers started to increase, the demand for food using insects began to emerge. Moreover, experts and institutions around the world are currently encouraging entomophagy celebrating its benefits on the environment and health. One of them is Arnold van Huis, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. As a prominent expert in entomophagy, he has authored Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Furthermore, the UN estimates that, by 2050, 9 billion people would populate the Earth, and that food demand would increase by around 70 percent. With food demand constantly rising, insects will be a crucial part of our future diets according to the UN.
Benefits of Insect Delicacy
1. High Nutrition
Insects are a viable protein source in supplementing or replacing meat. They contain up to 80 percent protein, and some even contain the same amount or higher amount of mineral iron than beef. Insects are also high in other nutritional aspects, including vitamins, fats, and fiber. They are also high in unsaturated fat, which makes them highly recommended in dietetic values.
2. Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4), are produced from raising domestic livestock, thus occupying around 9 percent of 2014 greenhouse gas emissions. Animals, agricultural soils, and rice production all contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Compared to these, raising and harvesting insects produce much less greenhouse gases than traditional livestock.
Edible insects require fewer resources to survive. Insects are cold-blooded animals that do not need to maintain their body temperature. This means that since energy is not used to sustain body temperature, fewer feed and water is needed to grow them, compared to warm-blooded animals such as cows. While 25 kilograms of feed are needed to produce one kilogram of edible beef, only 2 kilograms are needed to produce one kilogram of insect protein.
4. Good for the Environment
Traditional livestock requires tons of water. Producing one kilogram of beef requires approximately 22,000 liters of water. According to the FAO of the United Nations, by 2025, almost two thirds of the entire population on Earth will be suffering from water shortages and stress. In contrast to domestic livestock, insects need less water and feed while producing the same or higher amount of nutrition, including protein and iron. Having insects as food ingredients can significantly save water and feed in the future.
Korea’s Taste for Insects
Korea is also changing its preference for insects. Though Koreans already have a
snack food called “Beondegi” — steamed or boiled silkworm pupae — it is not
something that could be called luxury cuisine. However, changes are starting to take
place. A TV show like “The Rules of the Jungle” show Korean celebrities eating insects
that are treated as a great delicacy in certain parts of the world. A unique café like
“Edible Coffee” sells baked goods and beverages made of edible insects. These unique
trials are signaling a new factor that is entering the culinary world of Korea. ST