How to feed growing world population? - Edible Insects

World population is growing fast, and the UN projects it to be over 9 billion by 2050. Feeding world population with high protein food is a challenge. Increasing the current supply of protein by meat industry is not enough alone. Alternative protein sources such as vegetable (soy, pea etc.) and edible insects are increasingly becoming popular in recent years. 

Insects have historically been used in Southeast Asia as a protein source. Many start-ups are emerging in this field as the market is growing fast. Depending on species, insects have number of advantages compared to beef.1,2 For example, they can have up to 75% protein per 100 g. But it’s only around 30% for beef. Species also contain unsaturated fatty acids including omega 4 and 6. Cricket contains nine amino acids and many micro-elements. Its flour has more calcium content compared to cow milk. It’s also more sustainable to harvest insects over meat industry.1,2 Around 2 kg of food is needed to produce 1 kg of insects. On the other hand, 8 kg is needed to produce 1 kg of meat. 400 liters of water is needed to produce around 200 g cricket protein. But same water is needed to produce 6 g of beef and 18 g of chicken protein.1,2

How healthy are they?

Insects also contain macromolecules that are beneficial to human health. Studies suggest that daily consumption of cricket protein promotes probiotic bacterium in gastrointestinal tract. It also decreases plasma alpha tumor necrosis factor (TNF) which promotes tumor.3 It’s also reported that certain polysaccharide in cricket induces anti-inflammatory proteins and antioxidant enzymes.3 Some studies also found that those polysaccharides exhibited some effects of reduction in blood glucose and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which causes hearth problems.3

Cereal based foods have been supplemented with edible insects. Edible insects can replace up to 40% of cereal flour in stable foods or snacks.4 Most used cereals are wheat, rice and maze but some of them lack essential nutrients. Enriching cereal with nutritious supplement is adopted in countries where malnutrition is problem.4 They are also exploited to be used as a feed supplement because they are more sustainable to produce. Some studies have shown that supplementing insects such as cricket and black soldier fly to fish meal resulted in the increase of potassium and sodium content in fish. They also provide adequate mineral content to fish leading to no significant decrease in quality of final fish product.4

Multinational companies are also started to invest in this field. Certain have already started supplying insect oil as feed for piglets. Big companies see insects as a potential alternative sustainable source of nutrition. Even though current edible insect protein costs more than vegetable protein, the positive impact of sustainable aspect is great.5

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Written by Zoljargal Baatarkhuu

Zoljargal is a Technology Scout at TechScout