Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Is it really good to eat insects for a source of protein?


Insects are high in protein, and are a dietary delicacy in many areas that consume insects, as a snack or main meal.  This practice is known as entomophagy.  For tens of thousands of years, insects have proven to be a safe, tasty and nutritional food source.  From biblical times, John the Baptist survived on locusts and honey.  Today, consuming insects, on a regular basis, is common practice in more than 13 countries worldwide.  They are a particularly popular food item in Africa, Asia, Australia and Central and South America.

While vacationing in Mexico City, we ordered guacamole with a twist, and that meant that it was topped with roasted chapulines (crickets).  If we didn’t know any better, they looked and tasted like smoked dried onions.  In Mexico, in addition, to crickets, caterpillars, worms and ant eggs are used in a variety of dishes.

In Thailand, fried crickets and bamboo worms are commonly served with peppers and soy sauce, and enjoyed with a beer.  People living in Brazil can enjoy Queen Ants, which are said to have a minty flavor, and can be dipped in chocolate, as a special treat.  Ghana residents ground termites, to make flour that will eventually be turned into bread.  It is common for tourists in Cambodia, to see tarantulas offered as a food item.  Wasp crackers are enjoyed by many of the elders that live in the highlands of Japan.  In Bali, you can find a food delicacy which consists of dragonflies (de-winged), that are boiled in coconut milk and combined with garlic and ginger.

In addition to being an excellent source of protein, insects contain beneficial vitamins and minerals.  According to the US News and World Report (travel section), insects are healthier to consume than animal meat.  Consider that 100 grams of beef contains 29 grams of protein, and more than 20 grams of fat; 100 grams of grasshopper may contain a little less protein (about 20 grams), but the fat content is only 6 grams; caterpillars host more than 50 grams of protein, while only 15% is fat and 17% being carbohydrates; 100 grams of ants (which is a lot of ants) will provide you with 14 grams of protein (which is more than an ordinary chicken egg), and almost 50 grams of calcium, but clocks in at less than 100 calories.  One reason, that the nutritional value of insects are so high, is that the entire bug (exoskeleton and internal organs) is consumed.

If you are disgusted about eating bugs, it is probably due to how you view these creatures, and not based on taste (since very few Americans have actually tried them).  There are more than two billion people around the world that consume insects, on a regular basis (both cooked and raw).  This is not a common practice in Western culture.

Insect protein is not recommended for individuals that are allergic to shellfish, but for anyone else, this could be a viable protein alternative.  In addition to being a quality protein source, edible insects are high in healthy fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin B and calcium.

Beetles, for instance, have a very high protein content, and are often roasted over hot coals and enjoyed like popcorn.  Moths are a succulent source of iron and protein, and are consumed in African countries.  Bee brood (bees still in the egg) are said to taste like almonds or peanuts.  Backswimmers and water boatmen are easy to cultivate and harvest.  The eggs of backswimmers are dried and used to create Mexican caviar (which is said to have a strong fishy aroma, and tastes like shrimp).

Grasshoppers are a commonly consumed insect, because they are abundant and usually easy to catch.  The flavor is neutral, which means they will pick up the dominate flavor of the prepared dish.

Caterpillars, depending on the species, are high in calcium, zinc, potassium, iron and magnesium.  Quite often, caterpillars are ground into a flour, to be given to children suffering from malnutrition.  Although caterpillars (and other types of insects) may be used as an emergency food, they are consumed as a food delicacy in many regions around the world.

Stinkbugs are said to have the flavor of apples, which makes a great addition to sauces.  They are an excellent source of iodine, and are also known to have anesthetic properties.

There are close to 2,000 edible insects on the Earth that are chock full of protein, good fats, fiber, and important vitamins and minerals.  In addition to having an excellent nutritional value, eating bugs is also a safe, healthy and effective way to reduce a pest problem, without dangerous insecticides.   To find out more, and learn some recipes, check out the Creepy Crawly Cuisine, by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, a biologist and author.

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