Frequently Asked Questions

Most frequent questions and answers about Insect Consumption

What is entomophagy?

Entomophagy, the consumption of insects as a source of nutrition by humans. Entomophagy is practiced in most parts of the world, though it is especially common in the tropics, where more than 2,000 different species of insects are known to be consumed.

Why eat mealworms

What benefits does entomophagy bring?

Insects are now promoted as a source of protein. Scientists declare they are more efficient in converting this specific nutrient. They have a 60% efficiency, leaving burgers far behind at 18%. Media outlets are practically trumpet reports comparing the protein content between insects and poultry—caterpillars have 50% more protein than chicken; beetles contains one to two times more protein than red meat; bees and ants have twice the amount of chicken eggs; red palm weevils offer twice the amount compared to pork; crickets have 20% more than beef. In addition, they also possess unsaturated fatty acid, just like fish.

Which types of insects can be eaten?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations names 1,900 types of hexapods edible among more than 1 million insect species living in the world. The most commonly eaten ones are beetle, caterpillar, bee, ant, grasshopper and cricket. At the top of the list, there are 350 kinds of beetles that are edible.

In fact, insects have long colonized the food industry without most of us knowing. One of the examples is carmine, a food coloring extracted from female cochineal. In other cases, certain food items unavoidably contain dead insects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration even specifies the maximum amount of insects and their eggs allowed in the products circulated in the market: every 100 grams of chocolate can’t have more than 60 insect fragments; there can’t be more than 10% of bugs inside coffee beans; no more than five eggs of flies can be found in fruit juice. Look at it this way: chances are you have already eaten insects in one form or another.

Is it right to eat insects?

Eating insects can be a cultural or traditional practice, but there hasn’t been much progress in the law enforcement front to ensure we can eat them safely. Belgium is the first country to legalize insect-eating, declaring 10 varieties edible, including crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms. From the religious point of view, Buddhism, with its stance against killing, doesn’t concur with the diet. For the Jewish population, the Book of Leviticus mentions that locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are kosher. Opinion varies in Islamic countries, depending on the tradition of the location in discussion. While the Koran doesn’t affirm this, strict believers insist insects are haram (forbidden).

Why eat crickets

What are the potential risks?

As with everything, nothing is a 100% healthy, and insects aren’t an exception. Even if they are grown domestically, certain risks still exist. Some really harmful substances to our health could reside in their small bodies.

Scientists point out that if insects are not raised properly or under the appropriate weather and environment, large-scale production could lead to the insect equivalent of mad cow disease or avian flu. The insects could also be contaminated by heavy metal, or carry pesticides or parasites. Before eating, be sure to find out their origin and cook them thoroughly, just as you do with any other food ingredient. The European Food Safety Authority warns that there are biological, chemical and environmental risks for us to consume insects as a common food. The current level of research and reports are not sufficient to support this diet.

Are insects farmed organically?

In terms of farming practices, insect farming follows concepts that are very close to the principles of ‘organic farming’. Insect farms rely on natural processes that require minimum inputs, such as water. In addition, no agrochemicals such as plant protection products, hormones or antibiotics are used. Moreover, thanks to the vertical practices incorporated in such facilities, insect production is second to none in terms of land use – fact that reflects its visible indirect benefits on the preservation of biodiversity. However, for the moment, insects cannot be certified as ‘organic’. The organic standards for insect farming practices are presently being developed by the European Commission. As a transitional measure, IPIFF supports the authorisation of insect PAPs in organic aquaculture (prior to the establishment of organic standards for insects).

Can I be allergic to edible insects?

While edible insects are consumed by over two billion people worldwide, some of us – who could be allergic to crustaceans (i.e. shellfish) – are very likely to be allergic to edible insects, too. For the moment, research further investigates possibilities to mitigate such risks. However, insect food business operators have to comply with good labelling practices and indicate the risk of allergenicity accordingly (see IPIFF’s Guidance on Food Information to Consumers). In conclusion, as a precautionary measure, persons allergic to crustaceans and/or mites should, therefore, avoid consuming insects and their derived products.

Why eat bugs

Are insects suitable for cats, dogs or other pets?

While insects have been widely used as feed for birds, reptiles or circus animals, farmed insects can be incorporated in the diets of companion animals, too. Similarly to their benefits in animals farmed for human consumption, the use of insects in pet food improves the health and development of dogs and cats, for example. In addition, the incorporation of insect-derived ingredients in pet food products reduces their overall environmental footprint –providing a nutritious and sustainable solution for a wide range of companion animals.

Cat and dog eating bugs

Sources: Michelin Guide Digital, International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF), Encyclopedia Britannica.