Planning a backyard barbecue for Memorial Day? It might be time to swap the beef patties for burgers of a…buggier kind. A new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that beetles, wasps, caterpillars and other insects are an unexplored nutrition source that can help address global food insecurity.
According to FAO, it is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. Insect gathering and farming can offer employment and cash income for those struggling to survive, and although most if it’s currently done at the neighborhood level, scaling up to commercial insect operations is an option the UN wants to encourage.
“Domesticating and rearing insects can help sustain insect populations while also helping counter nutritional insecurity and improve livelihoods,” said Afton Halloran, a consultant for the FAO Edible Insects Programme. “Farming insects has a huge global potential for both animal feed and food production. We are already seeing producers creating animal feed from insects and research. And development is occurring around the world in order incorporate insects into menus and processed foods.”
Though vegetarians probably won’t be thrilled at the idea of chomping down on an insect sandwich, those who say the production of meat is destroying the planet will be encouraged to know that the production of greenhouse gases by insect farming would likely be lower than that of livestock. For example, pigs produce 10-100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram than mealworms.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at five of the most commonly consumed bugs, and what they could bring to your dinner table!
Globally, beetles are one of the most consumed insects are with 31 percent of the population chowing down on these six-legged bugs on a regular basis. Despite the icky-sounding name, dung beetles (pictured above) are often eaten fried and are quite tasty.
According to the FAO, 18 percent of the world enjoys finding caterpillars on its dinner plate, especially in regions where it’s difficult to get your hands on other sources of protein. They’re served boiled, dried or fried in oil.
Bees & Wasps
Here in the US, we depend on bees to pollinate our fruit, vegetables and nut trees, but elsewhere in the world, bees and wasps are a food source all unto themselves. The FAO estimates that around 14 percent of the world chows down on these winged insects. According to Edibug, “Wasps are eaten in both adult and larval stages. Boiled, sauteed, roasted and fried, they taste somewhat buttery and earthy. Emperor Hirohito of Japan favored boiled wasps with rice.”
Ants are another favorite among insect eating cultures, with everything from carpenter ants to leaf-cutter ants enjoyed as a delicacy and source of protein. “Honeypot ants have abdomens swollen with a nectar-like substance, which is used to feed other ants, sort of like a “living larder.” An excellent “bush food,” they are dug up from the ground and eaten raw by aboriginal peoples in Australia,” reports Edibug.
Grasshoppers, Locusts and Crickets
This group of buzzing, jumping insects is consumed by at least 13 percent of the global population, according to FAO, and is probably the best option if you’re looking to make those burgers out of something other than cow meat. Beef has an iron content of 6mg per 100g of dry weight, while the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20mg per 100g of dry weight, depending on the species and the kind of food they themselves consume.
Honey pot ant image via Wikimedia Commons. All other images via Thinkstock.