Here’s a fun fact: only Europe and North America are the only regions in the world where eating bugs is uncommon! In fact, bugs are eaten by at least two billion people around the world. This includes beetles, ants, crickets, bees and more! Regardless of the attitude towards eating insects in Western cultures, there has been an explosion of research on edible insects in the last few years, and the potential of insects becoming a food source for the future is increasingly being recognized.
Why eat insects?
You probably already know that insects are very rich in protein. In fact, they can even be healthier than mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and fish. Other than protein, insects also have good fats and are high in calcium, iron and zinc.
Insects also emit much lesser greenhouse gases than most livestock. Methane, for example, is only produced by a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches. Insect harvesting and rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require land clearing to expand production. It can be a low-tech, low-capital food production method that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society.
In short, eating insects is good for us, and it’s good for the environment. Even the UN recommends it.
We hope the idea of eating insects doesn’t give you the heebie jeebies! Check out these popular edible insects that people eat around the world that may very well become the food of the future.
There are many kinds of edible beetles out there, and the most popular edible beetle in the tropics is the palm weevil. Typically, only their larvae is eaten. They are very common in Africa, parts of Asia and South America. If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ve no doubt seen different types of beetles on display, served either roasted or fried. They’re said to taste like scallops! Native Americans would apparently roast them over a fire and eat them like popcorn.
You may be wondering, are you sure caterpillars are edible? Not all species of them are. The mopane caterpillar is arguably the most popular edible species. Endemic to South Africa, around 9.5 billion mopane caterpillars are harvested annually here. Outside of Africa and in Asia, the bamboo caterpillar is one of the edible insects that is promoted by the Thai government as an increasingly viable source of income. The people in the Chiapas region of Mexico also consume up to 27 caterpillar species!
3. Bees and wasps
We love bees for their honey, but it turns out people eat them too. Indigenous people in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and Mexico commonly eat them in their immature stages. Stingless bees are most commonly munched on, with wasps a distant second. In Japan, the larvae of yellow jacket wasps known as hebo, are commonly consumed. There is even a Hebo Festival, where hebo food products are popular delicacies!
Ants are highly sought-after delicacies in many parts of the world. Many species are edible, such as the weaver ant. In Thailand their eggs are sold in cans! You can also find various ant tonics and health foods on the Chinese market. For such a small insect, ants are surprisingly nutritious. 100 grams of red ant provide 14 grams of protein (more than eggs), nearly 48 grams of calcium, plus iron and other nutrients. All that in less than 100 calories. Plus, they’re also low in carbs! Ant diet anyone?
5. Locusts, grasshoppers & crickets
Grasshoppers and their cousins are some of the most consumed edible insects, simply because they’re all over the place and easy to catch. They also have a neutral flavour, which means they pick up other flavours nicely! In Mexico they are cleaned and toasted with some oil, garlic, lemon and salt. You’ll also find grasshoppers for sale as snacks on roadside stalls in many parts of Asia, as well as Niger in West Africa.