10 Reasons Bugs are the Key to Sustainable Protein
Are bugs a part of your diet? We're not talking about that urban legend that states humans eat eight spiders a year in their sleep. That myth is false, by the way, so you can sleep soundly. But even if you're not eating spiders in your sleep, you should be eating them while you're awake.
Why insects are the next superfood.
We know, it sounds very off-putting. But the truth is that humans have been eating bugs—a practice called entomophagy—for centuries as a convenient source of protein.
- In Africa and South Korea, locusts are boiled, cleaned, and salted, then eaten.
- In Australia and Africa, high-calorie termites are gathered, fried, and eaten by hand.
- In Southeast Asia, baked and fried mealworms are a popular street food.
- In Mexico, fried giant caterpillars are considered a delicacy.
Particularly in the United States, we’ve been very squeamish about actually eating bugs. However, in a changing world, bugs might very well be the food of the future because they are:
- high in protein
- ecologically viable
- highly nutritious
- and they can taste good. (seriously)
No matter how grossed out you are, bugs are the next superfood. If you’re not convinced yet, keep reading—by the end of this article, we aim to make a bug convert out of you. Or at least a tentative bug try-er.
10 reasons bugs are the superfood of the future.
- There are a lot of insects. In fact, there are more insects than there are any other animal. Bugs make up 80% of the entire animal population. This makes them a widely available food option.
- Insects are easily digestible. Believe it or not, bugs are easier to digest than animal protein. They also contain all nine essential amino acids. And your body can absorb more of the nutrients and protein available from bugs.
- Bugs are high in protein. Depending on the insect, 20% to 76% of the body is pure protein. For example, 3.5 ounces of grasshoppers or crickets contains between 14 and 28 grams of protein. That’s a big chunk of your daily protein needs, in a relatively small serving size!
- Bugs contain lots of good fats. Termites, grasshoppers, and crickets all contain a healthy amount of unsaturated fat.
- Insects are a nutrient powerhouse. High in iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and other nutrients the body needs, bugs are ridiculously nutritious. The amount of nutrients varies depending on the species, but bugs can be specially bred to contain certain amounts of nutrients depending on their diets. For example, grasshoppers fed bran instead of corn have twice as much protein.
- Bugs are packed with prebiotic fiber. The insect skeleton is made up of chitin, a prebiotic fiber that helps with digestion and provides a feeding ground for good bacteria.
- Insects are great for many types of diets. As you may have already figured out, as a high-protein, whole animal product, insects are one of the most paleo foods around. Since most insects are also very low-carb, they’re a good fit for ketogenic diets too. And insects are naturally gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free.
- Insects are efficient to farm. Pigs and chickens require twice as much feed as bugs do, and cattle require twelve times as much. Producing crickets for protein is 20 times more efficient than producing cattle. It also produces 80% less methane.
- Eating insects means less waste. Bugs can be eaten whole—which means far less food waste. Plus, bugs can be fed with organic waste, and the waste bugs produce can be used as a fertilizer.
- Insects offer hope for a sustainable supply chain. Very few large-scale bug-farming operations have popped up so far. But that means we have the resources to make sure insect supply chains are sustainable in the future, unlike most conventional animal protein sources.
How to eat insects.
We know you’ve been wondering, how do bugs taste? And how can they be turned into an appealing food product? According to an insect expert, bugs come in myriad diverse flavors:
“Dry-toasted cricket tastes like sunflower seeds, katydid like toasted avocado, palm grub like bacon soup with a chewy, sweet finish. Weaver ant pupae have practically no flavor, while the meat of the giant water bug is, astonishingly, like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher.” —Dave Gracer
But a lot of the way food tastes depends on your perceptions. If you think an ant-larvae taco is going to be gross, it’ll probably be gross. But if you think a termite cracker sounds like a treat, it most likely will be. That’s why the biggest challenge to spreading the word about entomophagy is changing its perception.
Luckily, a handful of enterprising chefs and entrepreneurs are finding ways to make insect-eating palatable for the average population. Insects can be eaten three ways: whole, as a powder or paste, and as an extract of protein, fat or chitin. Bugs are already served in a majority of countries around the world (an estimated 80%), but they’ve not yet become a mainstay in most Western countries, including the U.S., so we’ll focus our examples on the Western half of the world.
The most popular way to eat bugs so far is in protein bar and powder form. Companies like Chapul and Exo dry and grind up crickets into powder, and then use that powder to make flavored bars (dark chocolate-coffee-cayenne flavor, anyone? What about ginger-coconut-lime?).
If you're more adventurous and open to try new things, seek out options like these:
- Silkworm soup is sold at some South Korean restaurants, and you can find silkworm pupae at some Asian food markets, too.
- A Washington, D.C. restaurant, Oyamel, features grasshopper tacos on its menu.
- Buqadilla is a snack made of chickpeas and mealworms with Mexican spices that’s been tested out in Holland.
- And Crikizz is spicy, popped snack, developed in France, made with mealworms and cassava.
Changing your mindset about bugs means opening up a whole new world of food and flavors. You might have to get used to eating them in the future—so why not set the trend by starting now? Bugs are the superfood of superfoods, and it’s about time we all started considering them a viable energy source. Want to give insect-eating a go?
Try these bug recipes now!