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The buzz about edible bugs: Can they replace beef?

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The idea of eating bugs has created a buzz lately in both foodie and international development circles as a more sustainable alternative to consuming meat and fish, published American Chemical Society.

Now a report appearing in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry examines how the nutrients — particularly iron — provided by grasshoppers, crickets and other insects really measures up to beef. It finds that insects could indeed fill that dietary need.

Edible bugs might sound unappetizing to many Westerners, but they’ve long been included in traditional diets in other regions of the world, which are now home to more than 2 billion people, according a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The report also notes that about 1,900 insect species have been documented as a food source globally. That they’re a source of protein is well established, but if the world is to turn to bugs to replace meat, the critters will need to offer more than protein. Iron is a particularly important nutrient that is often missing in non-meat diets, causing iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to lower cognition, immunity, poor pregnancy outcomes and other problems. In light of these concerns, Yemisi Latunde-Dada and colleagues wanted to find out whether commonly eaten insects could contribute to a well-rounded meal.
The researchers analyzed grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms and buffalo worms for their mineral contents and estimated how much of each nutrient would likely get absorbed if eaten, using a lab model of human digestion.

The insects had varying levels of iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese and zinc. Crickets, for example, had higher levels of iron than the other insects did. And minerals including calcium, copper and zinc from grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms are more readily available for absorption than the same minerals from beef. The results therefore support the idea that eating bugs could potentially help meet the nutritional needs of the world’s growing population, the researchers say.


Ms Blackburn owns the Edible Bug Shop in Greystanes, breeding insects specifically for human consumption. Her products range from roasted crickets and cockroaches to chocolate-coated worms, reported Daily Telegraph (Australia).

The entomologist supplies 15 restaurants across Australia with edible bugs, and hopped into national attention when she appeared on an episode of the Channel 10 show Shark Tank last year.

Ms Blackburn said people were still coming to terms with the idea of bugs as food.
“One reaction we get is ‘oh my God, that’s disgusting’,” she said.
“But people are pleasantly surprised when they try it.
“Crickets are like tofu in a way that they can absorb flavours, and ants are strong in citrus acid.”
Ms Blackburn started the company after completing a degree in entomology as well as food science at university.

She hopes that by educating people about the way edible insects can be farmed as an eco-friendly alternative to beef or pork, they can become a staple food of the ­future.
Not only are insects good for the environment and versatile, they have nutritional benefits, too.
“The insects have lots of protein, calcium, iron, omega 3, B12 and B2 vitamins, and are low in carbs and saturated fat,” she said.

Sustainable-chef Kylie Kwong is among a growing list of Sydney restaurateurs to add insects to the menu. Ms Blackburn is now supplying insects to more than 15 restaurants across Australia who mostly use them in stir-fries.
Along with her television appearance, Ms Blackburn’s store won the Excellence in Innovation Award at the 2014 Western Sydney Awards for Business Excellence.
“Winning has helped us become recognised within the food manufacturing industry as leaders in alternative health and nutrition products,” she said.

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