The United Nations wants us to just get over it… our inner cringe-response to eating insects, that is. Our six-legged neighbors have been getting the short end of the stick from squeamish humans, particularly as a food source which could solve the problems of growing poverty, pollution, and the lack of agricultural resources to feed a growing population of seven billion (which by 2050 will be around nine billion).
Entomologist (bug specialist) and champion for insectivores everywhere Marcel Dicke explained in a TED talk that Americans are already eating a lot more insects than they realize: at least 500 grams of the creepy crawlies are crushed into their processed food every year. No, it’s not a conspiracy — during the preparation and packaging of many processed foods, bugs do make their way into the mix quite by accident, and so the USDA allows for a certain ratio in all food from peanut butter (50 insect fragments allowed per 100 grams) to ketchup (30 fruit fly eggs per 100 grams). It’s allowed because, really, eating insects is not bad for your health… it’s actually really, really good for you.
Bugs are a comparable protein source to pork, beef, and chicken; they’re also an excellent source of other nutrition, serving up everything from minerals to vitamins to fatty acids and fiber. Most insects, such as mealworms, also contain a comparable amount of omega-3 fatty acids to that in fish. Also, Mopani caterpillars have an iron content that ranges from 31–77 milligrams per 100 grams of dry weight versus only six milligrams per 100 grams of dry weight in beef. Insects also produce a lot less waste and are far more environmentally friendly than meat production.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization even tells us there are more than 1,900 edible insect species on the planet, so with dwindling crop and meat food resources, it makes sense to just eat more insects. Many countries around the world are already doing just that; in fact, 36 African countries are "entomophagous" (meaning they eat insects), as are 23 in the Americas, 29 in Asia, and even 11 in Europe. Raw termites are a popular tasty treat in Uganda, crispy fried locusts are a common snack food in Thailand, in Mexico ant larvae make a nutty delicious bite, and in South Africa many people enjoy eating grilled Mopane worms.
It’s not a purely foreign concept, either; insects have actually been crawling onto U.S. menus for years. In California a local confectioner is serving up a range of candy covered insects, from chocolate-dipped scorpions to insect candy suckers — all made with real insects, of course. And in New York a local Mexican restaurant offers a range of insect dishes, including tacos piled high with crispy dried grasshoppers.
Insects really are the six-legged meat of the future, and once you get over your initial aversion, making a meal of them just makes good sense, and can be quite tasty too. Here are some of the most delicious creepy crawly snacks and dishes from around the world.
Insect Candy, California (USA)
California confectioner Hotlix Insect Candy takes eating insects to a completely new level with its range of chocolate-covered and candy-dipped insects and (ahem) scorpions. It’s candy with a cringe-factor.
Crispy Fried Locusts, Thailand
Many tourists who try fried locusts in Thailand insist they taste a little like fried chicken, but locals (who regularly eat the tasty little treats) enjoy it more for the slightly nutty taste. Locusts are not only a popular snack but are also a good source of protein and nutrients. Silkworms and insect larvae are also widely available in Thai markets.
Serusha Govender is The Daily Meal's Travel Editor. Follow her on Twitter @SerushaGovender