Crickets – not the game, but the insects – are slowly creeping into the consumer market as a new food source. But is it a fad or could it be the next superfood?
It is expected that by 2050 the world population will have reached 9 billion. This is a scary thought as we are currently using 70 percent of agricultural land to raise livestock, oceans are being ransacked every day in a global overfishing issue, and the crazy climate changes are beginning to threaten traditional crop production.
We as humans need to look at alternative sources of food. Enter entomophagy, which is the act of chowing down on insects.
This is not a new craze and it is cited that insects form part of the traditional diets of around 2 billion people worldwide. However, there is a problem with the mindset of many people in the Western world – that insects are dirty and disgusting and have no business on our dinner plates. This perception may cause issues for businesses successfully introducing bug-based meals in different parts of the world.
Despite this, one of the most popular insects for people to nom on are crickets. Currently, in the United Kingdom, two different types of cricket can be sold for human consumption: house cricket (Acheta domesticus) and banded or decorated cricket (Gyllodes Sigallatus).
How sustainable are crickets?
Overall, cricket husbandry (or cricket rearing) has a lower impact on the environment than other animal sources.
- Carbon dioxide emissions: A. domesticus has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of edible protein, when compared with mealworms, chicken, pig, and beef cattle.
- Feed conversion ratio (the weight of feed intake divided by weight gained by the animal): Crickets have a smaller ratio at 1.7, whereas beef cattle has a whopping ratio of 10.
- Edible proportion: The edible parts of crickets are high at 80 percent, but chicken, pig, and beef cattle are much lower at 55, 55, and 40 percent, respectively.
- Water footprint: The amount of direct or indirect water needed for insect production is around three times lower than for beef cattle.
- Land area: The land required per kilogram of insect protein is 50-90 percent lower than that needed for livestock.
How many crickets do you have to eat to reach your protein goals?
It is surprising how such a small creature can pack such a mighty nutritious punch. Crickets have more iron than spinach, more fiber than brown rice, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, and more vitamin B12 than red meat.
For all those gym bros or people who are constantly looking at upping their protein consumption, then crickets may be for you. In humans, the recommended dietary allowance of protein for a healthy adult with minimal physical activity is 0.8 grams (0.02 ounces) per kilogram of body weight per day. Crickets have 28.6 grams (1 ounce) of protein (191 calories) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces). For someone that weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds), they would have to eat just under 200 grams (7 ounces) of crickets to get their daily protein.
Compared to a steak (at 25 grams (0.9 ounces) of protein per 100 grams), the same person would have to eat over 220 grams (7.8 ounces) of steak.
What do bug-based meals taste like?
Some of our IFLScience team (they volunteered… honest) went to a new pop-up restaurant in London to try some bug-based meals. They use crickets that are vertically farmed and located just one hour's drive from London.
“I went there with an open mind, but not knowing what to expect, and honestly the experience blew me away. If you weren't told there were insects (crickets) in the food, you wouldn't have guessed. The texture and taste was delicious, I'd absolutely try more!” Chris Carpineti, Senior Video Editor at IFLScience, told IFLScience.
"Meat alternatives often are trying to do everything – flavor, texture, and cooking approaches – but they come up short here and there. Across all the dishes we were served, we did not experience that at all. Actually quite the opposite. The cricket meat chunks tomato sauce – similar to an Italian spezzatino – was unbelievably good across all aspects. It tasted like my nonna would have made it,” added Dr Alfredo Carpineti, Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent at IFLScience.
Whether you decide to become a bug-tarian or vow never to have a single insect leg go past your lips, alternatives like bug-based meals may be one of the solutions for reducing any future food shortages.
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