Science - April 28, 2010

One million for cricket drumsticks

Subsidy has been given for research into insects as food for humans. Proteins from insects can be added to foodstuffs.

Salad with grasshoppers, mealworms and more
Caterpillar fillet, cricket drumsticks, or would you rather have a wormburger? If Arnold van Huis has his way, the Netherlands would be consuming enormous quantities of insects. Van Huis is professor attached to the Laboratory of Entomology, and a staunch advocate of eating insects as food. Together with colleagues at Food and Biobased Research and the chair group Product Design and Quality Management, he has succeeded in getting a million Euros from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. He will use this subsidy to research into sustainable production of insect proteins for human consumption.

Sustainable solution
Insects are better than cows, chickens and pigs in many ways, explains Van Huis. 'You can breed them for low value food. As insects are cold blooded, they can convert this food efficiently into meat. They don't have to keep their body temperature at a certain level. Moreover, a big portion of insects are edible.' In addition, they are rich in proteins, healthy fats and much-needed vitamins and minerals. 'In the tropics, eating insects is very normal', says Van Huis. 'They are even considered as delicacies, not something which is consumed when there's nothing else.' The westerner's diet comprises hardly any insects.  An exception is the colour pigment in pink cakes, made from ground plant lice. 'A pity', says Van Huis. 'Large scale consumption of insects is a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to provide the growing world population with sufficient protein-rich food.'

Break through
One wouldn't expect the Dutch to look forward to a plate of dried grasshoppers. 'To get a Dutch person to take a grasshopper head and chew that in between his teeth would be quite a feat. The cultural and psychological barrier is difficult to break through', Van Huis thinks. Grinding the insects and using them in products so that the creepy crawlies are no longer recognizable could be one way to overcome this hurdle. Extracting insect proteins and adding these to other food products is another possibility. 'Our research used to be mocked at in the past and we were taunted as "those boys and their hobby" ', adds Van Huis. 'I would like to speak to those critics again five years down the road.'  

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