Butterflies in your Stomach…Literally.

They hide under your beds, they crawl in your gardens, they sting you during the summer. And soon they will lie in your plates, ready to be savored : cockroaches, grasshoppers, bees and spiders. Edible insects. Feeling itchy ? You might need to get used it.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a branch of the United Nations that seeks out solutions to ensure food security worldwide. In its publication “Edible forest insects : Human bites back”, the FAO summarizes the findings of a 2008 conference about entomophagy, the consumption of insects by humans. If the experts’ research focused mainly on Asian and Pacific countries, their conclusions were aimed at Europeans and Americans as well. Insects are a huge potential food resource, and they might enter our food habits in the future, as improbable as it seems.

 

Alexis Chambon, 33, used to own a traditional pizzeria before he met Michel Collin, an insect specialist who works at the Breizh Insectarium in Brittany. The two men hit if off and thanks to Collin’s training, the restaurant owner discovered a new world of possibilities for dishes. He added mealworm pizzas and chocolat-coated grasshoppers to his menu, with success. In 2008, he decided to take the concept one step further and launched the company Insectes à croquer (Insects to nibble). Alexis breeds grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms, under close supervision: “I am the first to breed insects in France. Michel Collin controls my farm every three months.” Insectes à croquer has been touring France to promote entomophagy. The people Alexis meets seem receptive. “People come to me, they want me for events,” he explains. “I do lots of bio shows.” Shows, fairs, trips and tasting parties for companies; Alexis is popular. He is even invited by schools that want to initiate their pupils to this new food.

 

Insectesacroquer.com, his website, mirrors the business part of his activities. Alexis sells his exotic products through the website and has found an interested clientele: “People have been consuming insects for a long time. They’re satisfied now because they know they found a safe source, they don’t have to import insects from abroad anymore.”

 

For your kids, Insectes à croquer suggests the grapefruit-mealworm lollipops. The ready to eat mixed platters with Tex Mex sauce seem perfect for TV dinners. And for your fancy cocktail parties, the handcrafted rum with its cricket duo lying at the bottom of the bottle is a must.

 

Alexis, on the other hand, has a more direct approach when it comes to insect consumption: “Yes, you can eat them dehydrated, or grilled, or even in doughnuts ! But I prefer them “pure”, without being mixed to european food.”

 

“They Taste Like Crisps”

 

In many countries, like China, Japan or even New-Zealand, insects are considered delicacies; people eat them as snacks. Tatiana Rinke, a blonde of 23, lived in Thailand for a year when she was a teenager. She recalls her first experience with insects: “ At school, all my friends would eat grilled grasshoppers or dried frogs like European kids eat chocolate bars during recess.” A bit disgusted at first, she finally agreed to taste a cooked beetle at a night market: “I was under peer pressure! My friends were making fun of me.” And to her big surprise, she really liked it: “It’s pretty good when you make abstraction of what it actually is!” Afterwards, she regularly ate the local snacks. Her favorites are grilled grasshoppers: “They taste like crisps, crunchy and salty.”It might not suffice to convince Westeners to adapt to this rather exotic food source.

 

Baptiste Descotes-Genon, 21, used to live in Korea when he was younger. “In Asia, insects are like snacks, like peanuts.” But unlike Tatiana, his first experience with insects did not leave a good memory: “I was enormously disgusted at first. I spit the silkworms out. The taste didn’t please me at all.” James Ravonontsoa, 18, tried insects during a trip in Madagascar, his mother’s home country. Even if he did not really feel like it, he agreed to taste grilled cockroaches because of traditions. No disgust on his side, but no enthusiasm either: “I never ate insects again although it was a one-of-a-kind experience. No matter how open-minded I am, I simply didn’t like the taste of it.“Matthieu Repplinger, 22, spent the summer in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had his first encounter with grilled caterpillars and also understood the implications of insect consumption in poor countries: “In countries like Congo, where livestock farming is hard, hunt and insects are good sources or proteins.” They are. Insects have a huge potential as protein suppliers. Very nutritious, rich in vitamins and in minerals, they contain essential amino acids and are poor in fat. Grasshoppers, for example, are composed of 24.4% of protein when cattle contains 15.8%. But above all, when cattle contains 24.3% fat and pig even 33.3%, the grasshopper culminates at 1.5% fat (source: FAO, “Humans bite back”).

 

“Coming to a Supermarket Near You ?”

 

In addition, insects are cheap and easy to breed thanks to their high reproduction rate. Insect’s food conversion efficiency (the ability to transform what they eat into body mass, and by extension into actual food for humans) is also extremely high : the FAO assumes it is around 20 times superior than that of cattle. Insects are also bio : they require far less space than traditional livestocks and pollute less, they don’t leave dung and they pollinize. They only need a little water and grass while cattle and livestock need huge fields and kilograms of grains. Last but not least, if insects have the potential to reduce famine, they could generate employment as well: if their consumption was to generalize, the systematical breeding and commercializing would require working forces.

Alexis Chambon does not think that far ahead yet. “It will be long before we see “insects” on a product in supermarkets.” However, with the menace of food shortage in the 21st century, insects might become an additional source of food, as a complement to a more traditional, western-european diet. Alexis has his own theory: “When we’ll be 9 billions in 2050, we are going to need to feed everyone. Insects are the future.”

Follow on Twitter : Marine Marck
Pictures: Flickr/CC/David.Orban

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