Insects contain a lot of healthy proteins and can be bred very efficiently using few natural resources. But this piece of Wageningen wisdom is not enough to get Dutch people eating insect meals en masse, says PhD candidate Grace Tan Hui Shan in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
Tan studied which psychological and cultural factors underlie the eating of insects. She compared the considerations made by several groups of consumers in Thailand, where insects are part of the culinary tradition, and the Netherlands, where they recently went on sale. Thai people are familiar with many edible insects and often know how to prepare them well, yet not all of Thailand’s inhabitants eat insects. This varies from province to province, explains Tan. Thai people eat mainly local food and reject foods they aren’t familiar with. Dutch consumers who she presented with an insect snack were much more receptive to new dishes, discovered the PhD candidate from Singapore. But as Tan’s research shows, the Dutch can also be divided into those who are starting to eat insects and those who don’t eat them.
Members of the first group have usually come across insect snacks at special events and believe that the edible insect is a sustainable alternative to meat. The non-insect eaters think the insect snack looks revolting, but don’t let themselves be defeated, managing to swallow an insect snack with a mix of disgust and curiosity, as Tan observed during the taste test. Most insect-avoiders found the taste surprising, but won’t be putting insects on the menu, they admitted in the survey. The rational sustainability argument is not enough to get insects on Dutch menu, Tan concludes.
Copying Thailand’s example, what’s needed are strong recipes that do justice to the insect’s taste, so the insect can gain a reputation as a delicacy. By way of comparison, the Thai people find certain ant larvae and the larvae of the Giant Water Bug, a type of cockroach, especially tasty in particular dishes. Similarly, the Netherlands needs recipes to which insects add taste. An added requirement is that the insects should have a texture that resembles that of meat, because we see insects as being an alternative to meat.