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Edible insects

Interview: Brigitte Osterath / alMay 17, 2014

Insects could be an important food source in the future, according to scientists who met this week in the Netherlands. DW spoke with Dutch researcher Arnold van Huis about his favorite edible insects.

A pile of grasshoppers, shown up close
Image: picture-alliance

DW: Mr. van Huis, do you eat insects yourself?

Arnold van Huis: Yes, about once a week. There are a number of shops in the Netherlands where you can buy insects. Or you can order them in the Internet. There are freeze-dried locusts and two types of mealworm, that's the larval form of the mealworm beetle.

Which insects taste the best?

Locusts. And crickets as well, but they aren't available on the Dutch market yet.

How do they taste?

It's just like with chicken or beef, without any added flavoring most people wouldn't find insects that tasty. You have to prepare them correctly and make something out of them. And it depends a bit on the type of insect. Crickets taste good just lightly roasted. It's the same with grasshoppers.

How do you best add flavor to insects?

With a bit of salt, tomatoes and onion. Sometimes they are blanched or cooked. And you can crush them and turn them into all sorts of products.

Infographic showing insects consumed worldwide

And what is the consistency like? Are insects more soft, or crunchy?

At the moment, most of the insects on the market are freeze dried, which means they're crunchy. That's the only way to keep them edible for long enough. But the method is very expensive, so it's not really advisable. It would be better to store insects in the freezer.

But due to their shell, locusts are always hard, irrespective of the way they're conserved, right?

It depends how you harvest them. Straight after they have hatched, they are still soft. Two or three weeks later they get hard, that's not so good.

Why are insects an important source of food for the future?

Over 70 percent of the farming land worldwide is used for cattle. When the demand for meat doubles, we will need new sources of protein. And insects are, from a dietary point of view, quite similar. They are even better actually.

And are they good for the environment?

Yes, insects produce less greenhouse gases and ammonia. They are very efficient at turning what they eat into body weight. Probably because they are cold blooded. They don't need any extra food, in order to keep their body temperature up. To produce a kilogram of beef you need 25 kilograms (55.12 pounds) of food. For a kilogram of crickets, you need to provide just two kilograms of feed.

Which insect is the best food source?

There are almost 2,000 insect types which are edible. But not all of them can be produced on a farm. But we have to manage that in the future, in order to create large enough amounts. In the Western world, crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms are the most popular.

Infographic showing food used to produce one kilogram of beef, in comparison to one kilogram of insects

But most Europeans can't imagine eating insects at the moment.

No, but that's linked to our perception and with our feelings. That's a psychological phenomenon. The problem is not the taste, we can prepare them in a delicious way.

How do you plan to convince people to eat insects?

First we need to make enough information available about insects, including that it's not dangerous to eat them. Many people associate insects with something dirty. Also, those in gastronomy need to work out a way to create delicious dishes.

Are there already restaurants that offer insects on the menu?

Yes, for instance the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, which was once again recognized two weeks ago as the best restaurant in the world. They have insects on the menu. Often chefs copy recipes of the famous chefs. That's why we hope that there will also be TV shows where people practice cooking with insects. In the Netherlands we already have a show like this. When things go that far, then people's mentality and perceptions can change quickly.

Arnold van Huis is an insect researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and one of the co-organizers of the conference 'Insects to feed the world.' He's also published a book of recipes of insect-based dishes.