Insects have long been a highly nutritious staple of diets across much of the world from Africa to Southeast Asia where bamboo worm larvae, crickets, water bugs and other arthropods, mostly grown on farms, are destined for many a lunch and dinner table.
Not so, though, in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the West where meals made of creepy-crawlies remain widely shunned. That is a pity, many experts say, because insects could and should become a staple of diets everywhere as they are rich in protein and can be produced in far more environmentally ways than beef or pork.
Still even gourmets of insect meals might turn their noses up at fare like the larvae of black soldier flies, which are often used to compost waste and are converted into animal feed.
But we shouldn’t shun black soldier fly larvae as a source of our own food, according to a scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia, because they contain more zinc and iron than lean meat and their calcium content rivals that of milk.
The larvae are already used as feed for livestock, and there is no reason why they should not feature in people’s diets as well, stresses Louw Hoffman, a professor of meat science at the university.
“Just like meat, it contains all the nutrients humans need for health. The larvae is richer in zinc and iron than lean meat, and its calcium content is as high as that of milk,” Hoffman says. “Their nutritional composition makes them an interesting contender as a meat alternative, and to date they have demonstrated their potential to partially replace meat in burger patties and Vienna sausages,” he adds.
Better yet: we would need less than half a hectare of land for farming black soldier fly larvae to produce more protein than cattle grazing on 1,200 hectares or soybeans grown on 52 hectares.
In other words, by introducing farmed larvae into people’s diets in the West we could have a sustainable and healthy alternative to both meat and plant proteins. “If you care about the environment, then you should consider and be willing to eat insect protein,” Hoffman emphasizes.
If you go “Yuck!” at the very thought, you might want to consider that two billion people worldwide already eat insects as a regular part of their diet.
“The biggest factor that prevents fly proteins being used in our food supply is Western consumers’ acceptance of insects as food,” the Australian scientist argues. “We will eat pea or oat milk, even lab-grown meats, but insects just aren’t on Western menus.”
A key to growing black soldier fly larvae for human consumption would include a better understanding of the various nutritional profiles of the fly at the different stages of its growth and how best to process the larvae to preserve their nutritional value in a safe and hygienic manner.
“While the fly can clean up toxic waste including heavy metals, it’s also recommended flies bred for human food be fed a clean source of organic waste,” Hoffman says.
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