Insects as food are edible

Insects are a set of species that are used for human consumption. The number of edible insect species consumed globally range from 1,000 to 2,000. These species comprise of approximately 235 butterflies and moths, apart from 344 beetles, 313 ants, bees and wasps, 239 grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches, 39 termites, 20 dragonflies, including the cicadas (Figure 1). The consumption of species varies mainly owing to the fact that, it is based on the region to which they belong. This occurs mainly due to the differences in the environment, ecosystems and climate (Ramos-Elorduy et al. 1997). Edible insects are considered as traditional foods in over 100 countries of Asia, Africa and South America (Figure 2). Apart from this traditional aspect, there is a rising interest shown towards edible insects in the recent years, particularly as an alternative source of food for the increasing world population (Baiano, 2020). Currently, more than 1,900 edible species are described in scientific literature, of which 31% are beetles (Coleoptera), 18% are caterpillars of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), 14% are bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera), 13% being locusts, grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera) (van Huis et al., 2013). All these contain an excellent source of protein, including other nutrients.

These insects can normally inhabit in both aquatic and terrestrial environments (Jongema, 2017). Majority of them are harvested from nature, though some species are farmed on a large scale. Many insects have been consumed worldwide (Van Huis et al., 2013). Insects can even be a highly efficient source of protein as compared to animals (Akhtar & Isman, 2018). Eating insects can be a greater alternative for those who are concerned about decreasing the environmental footprint. The potential of insects as a source of protein for future food and feed has been the object of numerous studies in the recent years. The consumption of insects, which is also called entomophagy has traditionally been practiced by more than two billion people worldwide and mostly in various parts of Asia, Africa and South America. People in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America consume whole insects in an identifiable form, either as snack food or as a part of their daily diet. Insects are usually boiled and dried, toasted or fried before being incorporated into different dishes (Adidas Runtastic Team, 2020). Hence, consumption of some insect species to obtain protein seems to be a feasible idea from an economic, environmental and nutritional point of view (Rodríguez-Miranda et al., 2019). Edible insects have several beneficial aspects, which can be utilized as a sustainable food source, owing to the high nutritional content that is present in them. The article aims to present some facts after having conducted a detailed investigation to prove that insects could be the food of the future and they can be treated as an alternative source of protein.

Number of recorded edible insect species per group in the world
Fig 1: Number of recorded edible insect species per group in the world
Recorded edible insect species by country (Jongema - 2017)
Fig 2: Recorded edible insect species by country (Jongema – 2017)

Insects are currently a part of the diet of humans in many parts of the world. Their nutritional value has been widely recognized. Today, for many nations, insects have become a major source of protein supplements for the human diet (Melgar‐Lalanne et al., 2019). The nutritional value of edible insects is highly diverse, mainly because they are large in number, apart from the variability of these species. Nutritional value may vary considerably even within a group of insects, depending on the stage of metamorphosis, origin of the insect and its diet (Van Huis et al., 2017). Edible insects supply huge amounts of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals that are comparable to those of meat. Despite the high nutritional value that is present in edible insects, concerns have been raised about the lack of sanitary and quality controls that are actually applied in connection with their sale (Belluco et al., 2013). Overall, insects have obvious advantages in their nutritional value. Their nutritional compositions are quite similar to those of traditional animal foods (Raubenheimer and Rothman, 2013). They have enormous potential and are a major source of nutrients and active substances not only for humans but also for poultry. Therefore, their nutritional value would change according to the method of preparation and processing (e.g. drying, cooking, frying, etc.). The Nutrient value of some insects such as crickets, palm weevil larvae, mealworm, etc. was healthier than beef, chicken, including meat (Payne et al., 2016). Most edible insects provide sufficient energy and are a good source of protein intake for the human diet, apart from helping meet the amino acid requirements (Tang, 2019). Insects also have a high content of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids; they are rich in trace elements such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, apart from containing vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folic acid in some cases, that could vary from 20 to 76% of dry matter, depending on the type and development stage of the insect. Fat content variability is large (2–50% of dry matter) and it depends on many factors. Total polyunsaturated fatty acids’ content may be up to 70% of total fatty acids. Carbohydrates are represented mainly by chitin, whose content ranges between 2.7 mg and 49.8 mg per kg of fresh matter (Kourimska & Adamkova, 2016). Some species of edible insects contain a reasonable amount of minerals (K, Na, Ca, Cu, Fe, Zn, Mn and P) as well as vitamins such as Vitamins B, A, D, E, K and C. However, their vitamin and mineral content is seasonal and also dependent on the feed.

Edible insects are being suggested as the most promising solution that would be able to  meet the challenge of supplying animal protein, in order to overcome the growing global  demand. Edible insect-based food is shown in Figure 3. Edible insects have significant  potential to become an alternative whole protein or lipid food source, owing to the fact  that they are a promising sustainable solution today, apart from having plenty of  nutritional benefits (Gerland et al., 2019; Godfray et al., 2016).

They require considerably less land, water and feed as compared to conventional livestock production (Zielinka et al., 2018). Locusts and other insect species are also rich in nutrients such as protein, lipids, omega-3 fatty acids and indigestible fibre (chitin). According to a research done by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), they remind us that there are more than 1,900 edible insect species on Earth, hundreds of which have already become a part of the diet of humans in many countries (Koning et al., 2020). These also include ants, aphids, bagworm, bamboo worms, grasshoppers, bees, butterflies, cockroaches, crickets, earthworm, flies, locusts, etc.

Insect based edible food (Kate Symons, 2015)
Fig 3: Insect based edible food (Kate Symons, 2015)

According to a study published in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography Boffey (Melo et al., 2011), cockroach milk contains protein crystals and it is a supposed powerhouse of nutrients. It’s better than other kinds of liquid milk, as the crystals retain all nutrients that may be lost during liquefaction. The milk is said to contain all essential amino acids that the body needs for cell growth. Moreover, the milk can give a serious energy boost, as it is highly glycosylated, which means that the surface of its protein is coated with sugar (Jongema, 2017). This makes cockroach milk better than human harvested milk such as the cow milk. Scientists think cockroach milk is the next “Super Food”. And they have found that cockroach milk contains higher energy in its protein than the cow’s milk (Gravel & Doyen, 2020). Interestingly, there is a by-product named cockroach milk ice cream which is highly popular. This cockroach-based milk is rich in essential amino acids and protein.

Ant egg soup is a Laotian dish made of ant eggs, mixed with snakehead fish, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, tamarind bean, lime juice, basil leaves, tomatoes and fish stock. This unusual soup tastes a little like shrimp and is made from a mixture of ant eggs and partial embryos from a white ant, in addition to a few baby ants to add a hint of sourness (Kim et al., 2019). We may think this unusual dish is made from a strange concoction; however, this delicacy is supposedly quite tasty. Further, the ant is used as human food in many parts of the world (Rastogi, 2011). Research from Thailand reported that eating ant egg soup could protect against cancer. It is harvested and consumed as food in several countries across the world. Also, this is high in protein and is the most common recipe for patients to improve their immunity levels.

Singapore’s newest cocktail bar has been developed by a 27-year-old person who won the Diplomatic World Tournament at Singapore in 2015 with his rum-based cocktail named ‘Jewel of The East’ (Giliomee, 2014). It was inspired by the 1945 Japanese occupation of Singapore and crafted with sweet potato compote with pandan, cinnamon, cardamom and rum liqueur. In that bar, a turnover of nearly USD $23 for ant cocktail is being made per day. It has much more powerful benefits as compared to the common cocktail. It’s just simply that ant is blended into yoghurt-based drink (Nowak et al., 2016). Besides, it can also become one of the most amazing “Future Food.”

Cricket Flour is more accurately powder and contains significantly higher levels of protein. Research shows that cricket protein is comparable to the protein contained in skinless chicken breast. This is because crickets contain about 58 to 65 percent protein per bug. They are high in complete protein, fat, dietary fibre, vitamins and essential minerals. Cricket flour from captive cricket insects is unsaturated fat (Alemu et al., 2017). They are used in a wide range of foodstuff such as smoothies, baking and cooking. Also, they are rich in Vitamin B, Minerals and are a good source of fatty acid and contain 65% of protein by weight. Moreover, cricket flour contains nutrients such as the nine essential amino acids, calcium, iron, potassium, Vitamin B12, B2 and fatty acids. This is around 10 Times a trusted source as much as salmon. It contains comparable amounts of the energy-boosting vitamin (24mg/100g). Besides, it comprises essential mineral iron i.e., 6 to 11 mg per 100 gm which is more than twice the trusted source of amount present in spinach (Dossey & Morales-Ramos, 2016). The average cost of pre-made cricket flour is around $40 per pound (4,200 to 4,800 crickets) and for frozen crickets, they are about USD $9 per pound.                                   

Insects can be considered as safe from a microbiological point of view, but they can also contain residues of pesticides and heavy metal. Edible insects are gaining more attention as a sustainable source of animal protein for food and feed of the future (Klunder et al., 2012). From this perspective, this study aims to characterize the microbial load of edible insects found in Belgium and to evaluate the efficiency of different processing methods in reducing microorganism counts (Baiano, 2020). The demand for insect protein, mainly as an ingredient in feed and pet food could reach half a million metric tons by 2030, up from today’s market of around 10,000 metric tons, as predicted by the authors of a new Rabo Research report. In 2019, the Edible Insects Market size had exceeded USD 112 million and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 47% between 2019 and 2026. Increasing demand for high protein, low fat & economical food sources that is accompanied by shifting trends in dietary needs is likely to stimulate market outlook (Caparros Megido et al., 2017). Figure 4 shows growing strategy of insect-based farming companies. Edible insects are produced with less environmental impact as compared to livestock which can even reduce waste disposal problems. These insects have adequate quantity of protein and are a great source of nutrients (Ahuja & Mamtani, 2020). The edible insects market is growing, owing to rising demand for wasps and bee-based products.

Fig 4: The-exponential-increase-in-capital-flowing-to-insect-farming-companies                                                                   

Insects possess a good nutritional value and are rich in protein with all the essential amino acids. Insects hold enough potential as a safe, nutritious protein source for the future (Rumpold, & Schluter, 2013). Different types of edible insects in raw and processed forms have been consumed by several cultures globally since time immemorial, particularly in developing countries, where they are traditionally viewed as a delicacy, besides being a wonderful source of nutrition. Production of high-quality insect-based food products is dependent upon the farming conditions, processing methods and functional properties. Being an alternative protein source, the consumption of insects could therefore contribute positively to the environment, food, nutritional security and help the present and future generations in leading healthier lives (Imathiu, 2020). Subsequently, the consumption of insects as an alternative feed ingredient could help save our planet from devastation. Insects are a true superfood and they contain almost 3x more protein than beef and are also low in fat. Edible insects are the “future meat source.” Therefore, insect foods can help us to stay fit and healthy, apart from being good for the environment.

Adidas Runtastic Team, (2020).
Ahuja, K., & Mamtani, K. (2020). Edible Insects Market size to exceed $1.5 bn by 2026. Global Market Insights Inc.
Akhtar, Y., & Isman, M. B. (2018). Insects as an alternative protein source. In Proteins in food processing (pp. 263-288). Woodhead Publishing.
Alemu, M. H., Olsen, S. B., Vedel, S. E., Kinyuru, J. N., & Pambo, K. O. (2017). Can insects increase food security in developing countries? An analysis of Kenyan consumer preferences and demand for cricket flour buns. Food Security, 9(3), 471-484.
Baiano, A. (2020). Edible insects: An overview on nutritional characteristics, safety, farming, production technologies, regulatory framework, and socio-economic and ethical implications. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 100, 35-50.
Belluco, S., Losasso, C., Maggioletti, M., Alonzi, C. C., Paoletti, M. G., & Ricci, A. (2013). Edible insects in a food safety and nutritional perspective: a critical review. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 12(3), 296-313.
Caparros Megido, R., Desmedt, S., Blecker, C., Béra, F., Haubruge, É., Alabi, T., & Francis, F. (2017). Microbiological load of edible insects found in Belgium. Insects, 8(1), 12.
De Koning, W., Dean, D., Vriesekoop, F., Aguiar, L. K., Anderson, M., Mongondry, P., … & Boereboom, A. (2020). Drivers and inhibitors in the acceptance of meat alternatives: The case of plant and insect-based proteins. Foods, 9(9), 1292.
Dossey, A. T., Morales-Ramos, J. A., (Eds.). (2016). Insects as sustainable food ingredients: production, processing and food applications. Academic Press.
Gerland, J., Andrew, N. R., & Ruhnke, I. (2019). Insect protein in animal nutrition. Animal Production Science, 59(11), 2029-2036.
Giliomee, J. (2014). Cocktail antics-associations between Cocktail Ants and their hosts: our amazing biodiversity. Veld & Flora, 100(1), 34-35.
Godfray, C. L., Scarborough, P., Rayner, M., & Nonaka, K. (2016). A systematic review of nutrient composition data available for twelve commercially available edible insects, and comparison with reference values. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 47, 69-77.
Gravel, A., & Doyen, A. (2020). The use of edible insect proteins in food: Challenges and issues related to their functional properties. Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies, 59, 102272.
Imathiu, S. (2020). Benefits and food safety concerns associated with consumption of edible insects. NFS Journal, 18, 1-11.
Jongema, Y. (2017). Worldwide list of recorded edible insects. The Netherlands: Department of Entomology, Wageningen University & Research.
Kate Symons, (2015).
Kim, T. K., Yong, H. I., Kim, Y. B., Kim, H. W., & Choi, Y. S. (2019). Edible insects as a protein source: a review of public perception, processing technology, and research trends. Food science of animal resources, 39(4), 521.
Klunder, H. C., Wolkers-Rooijackers, J., Korpela, J. M., & Nout, M. J. R. (2012). Microbiological aspects of processing and storage of edible insects. Food control, 26(2), 628-631.
Kourimska, L., & Adamkova, A. (2016). Nutritional and sensory quality of edible insects. NFS journal, 4, 22-26.
Melgar‐Lalanne, G., Hernández‐Álvarez, A. J., & Salinas‐Castro, A. (2019). Edible insects processing: Traditional and innovative technologies. Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 18(4), 1166-1191.
Melo, V., Garcia, M., Sandoval, H., Jiménez, H. D., & Calvo, C. (2011). Quality proteins from edible indigenous insect food of Latin America and Asia. Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture, 23(3), 283.
Nowak, V., Persijn, D., Rittenschober, D., & Charrondiere, U. R. (2016). Review of food composition data for edible insects. Food chemistry, 193, 39-46.
Payne, C. L., Dobermann, D., Forkes, A., House, J., Josephs, J., McBride, A., … & Soares, S. (2016). Insects as food and feed: European perspectives on recent research and future priorities. Journal of insects as Food and Feed, 2(4), 269-276.
Ramos-Elorduy, J., Moreno, J. M. P., Prado, E. E., Perez, M. A., Otero, J. L., & De Guevara, O. L. (1997). Nutritional value of edible insects from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of food composition and analysis, 10(2), 142-157.
Rastogi, N. (2011). Provisioning services from ants: food and pharmaceuticals. Asian Myrmecology, 4(1), 103-120.
Raubenheimer, D., & Rothman, J. M. (2013). Nutritional ecology of entomophagy in humans and other primates. Annual review of entomology, 58, 141-160.
Rodríguez-Miranda, J., Alcántar-Vázquez, J. P., Zúñiga-Marroquín, T., & Juárez-Barrientos, J. M. (2019). Insects as an alternative source of protein: a review of the potential use of grasshopper (Sphenarium purpurascens Ch.) as a food ingredient. European Food Research and Technology, 245(12), 2613-2620.
Rumpold, B. A., & Schlüter, O. K. (2013). Nutritional composition and safety aspects of edible insects. Molecular nutrition & food research, 57(5), 802-823.
Tang, C., Yang, D., Liao, H., Sun, H., Liu, C., Wei, L., & Li, F. (2019). Edible insects as source protein. Food production, processing and nutrition.1(8), 1-13.
Van Huis, A., Van Itterbeeck, J., Klunder, H., Mertens, E., Halloran, A., Muir, G., & Vantomme, P. (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security (No. 171). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Zielinka, E., Karas, M., Jakubuzyk, A., & Zielinski, D. (2018). Edible insects as source of protein: Bioactive molecules in food. pp1-54.

About the Authors
1. Dr. P. Karthik
Department of Food Technology, Faculty of Engineering,
Karpagam Academy of Higher Education (Deemed to be University),
Coimbatore 641021, India.
Email ID:
2. Ms. R. Ramyapriya
Dhanalakshmi Srinivasan College of Engineering,
Perambalur 621212, India.

Claus C

An up-&-coming bloody creative professional passionately involved with both print and digital media; constantly trying to be an irritating perfectionist and surviving solely on inspiration (sometimes from the most inert objects)… Currently, staying busily engaged with producing mouth-watering content for the much anticipated and less explored Indian Food Processing Sector; interested to cover anything about the food and beverages business, whose works are unconventional, yet sustainable for the planet onto my list of forthcoming works...

Write A Comment

two × 5 =