A Dutch supermarket is bringing edible insects into the mainstream

To the Point
Mealworm dish in a Yunan Restaurant

The Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo announced last week that it would start selling edible insect products in all its stores next year. This is the first time a Dutch supermarket has offered insects for sale and some stores will see insect products on their shelves as soon as this week.

Products include such delights as burgers made from mealworms and the larvae of the honeycomb moth as a ‘crispy snack’.

Marcel Dicke, professor of entomology at Wageningen University and the author of “The Insect Cookbook; Food for a Sustainable Planet” says that this is an “important step in the whole process that we’re going through” and “important for our future.” Insects, he says, are an important source of protein and are already enjoyed in many places around the globe.

“Two billion people are using them in a regular way and they enjoy them just as we enjoy lobster or shrimp, as a delicacy … sometimes boiled, sometimes fried and sometimes raw,” Dicke says. "There are about 2000 species eaten around the globe and just like meat you can enhance the taste with salt and pepper. The insect has a palatable taste sometimes compared to nuts. In Australia the aboriginals call locusts the sky shrimp.”

In order to get over that “icky” feeling people have about eating bugs, we need to know that “eating insects is environmentally benign compared to normal meat because they need far less feed and produce far less manure.”

They produce less greenhouse gases per pound and in addition they use less water and need less land. In addition as they are in limitless supply, they are seen as a sustainable food source. The San Francisco company Chapul, which blends cricket flour into protein bars, was inspired by using something that is a “high quality food source and not a burden to the environment.”

Around the world, grasshoppers, cicadas, crickets, silkworms, beetles and spiders have migrated from the garden and onto the menus of restaurants from New York and Los Angeles to London, China, Thailand, South America and Africa.

And the preparation has a great deal to do with how the insects ultimately taste. Dicke interviewed renowned Danish chef Rene Redzepi for his own cookbook, and noted that he started adding insects to his dishes because they provided a unique “flavor and taste that he would not be able to get into his recipes any other way.” For some of his dishes he tosses in local ants — an idea he got while visiting another chef in Brazil.

So far, most people who eat insects “collect them in the wild” but commercial insect farms are starting to emerge. In Thailand there is a development of “20,000 household farms that produce crickets and sell them on the market. In the Netherlands, we have three insect farms that produce insects especially for human consumption,” Dicke says. In the US and Canada, the first farms have been setup to produce insect-meal; the source for the energy and protein bars.

Most likely these will soon be found in a grocery store near you.

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