An appetising appetiser? This grasshopper dish is an example of fine dining from the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Line Thit Klein/Chris Tonnesen
If someone suggested New Zealand farmers raised a new kind of
high protein livestock which had a potential market of about
two billion people worldwide, most would jump at the chance.
However, for some reason, this particular livestock may not
be that popular here.
Entomophagy is eating insects by humans and for some, such as
entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste, who really enjoys a good
cricket, it is a logical move and a great idea.
University Auckland director for the Centre of Biodiversity
and Biosecurity, associate professor Dr Jacqueline Beggs has
eaten different insects including bee larvae and pupae in wax
while in Asia and found them sweet and chewy, while
home-grown huhu grubs had a nutty, buttery flavour.
''Put garlic butter with anything and it tastes good,'' Dr
Insects and arachnids are used as a high-protein,
nutrient-laden diet supplement in many parts of the world,
particularly in parts of Asia, Africa and South America and
have been for thousands of years.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
(FAO) is promoting insect farming as a means to supplement
both diets and incomes in poorer economies, particularly as
the planet's projected population is expected to be 9 billion
It estimates the world needs to increase food production by
70% to cope.
The FAO website says insects are extremely high in protein
and nutrients (comparable to meat and fish), and are high in
fatty acids, fibre and trace elements, have a high feed
conversion rate compared with conventional livestock, and can
feed on bio-waste.
Italy-based FAO consultant for Forest Economic, Policy and
Products Division (FOE), Forestry Department Non Wood
Forestry Division and Edible Insect Programme, Christopher
Münke said insect farming, while common in Asian countries,
was in an embryonic stage in western countries and was being
developed as a niche market.
''Worldwide, more and more companies are looking into the
potential of insects as animal feed, or to reduce excess
amounts of manure,'' Mr Münke said.
''Some businesses had started in the food and [animal] feed
section in the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium,
France and others.
''However, for example, in Thailand, about 20,000 insect
farms exist, and make it a real and feasible livelihood
opportunity for people.
''We see insects not as a replacement to traditional meat,
but as a further alternative to it.''
He said it was important that when establishing such systems
''that food and feed safety regulations are in place,
including hygienic and safe handling practices''. The FAO,
along with the Netherlands' Wageningen University, is hosting
the Insects to Feed the World conference in Ede, Netherlands
from May 14 to 17 and it will provide an overview of
It will also look at sustainable harvesting from the wild,
standardising methods used to analyse insects' nutritional
composition, promoting data gathering on the production and
trade of edible insects, legislative requirements and
creating a global awareness of insects as a food and feed
''We hope, especially on legislation, we can move ahead to
establish more safe food and feed standards based on insects,
and research in the field will be intensified,'' Mr Münke
''A part which makes insects so interesting is that they can
and are used already as animal feed for chickens and in
Insects such as the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) are
being reared on organic waste, producing protein (larvae),
for conversion to animal feed. While eating insects has been
accepted for generations in many countries around the world,
the aversion to the practice still has to be overcome in the
''The disgust factor is a western phenomenon, and comes from
the relative little or absent consumption of insects,'' he
''That [overcoming that factor] has to do with product
development and good marketing of insect-based products.
''Sushi was a novelty about 10 to 15 years ago and is now
available in many countries as a standard food item.''
Dr Beggs said while she did not think Western New Zealanders
were going to ''put aside a sirloin steak for a nice healthy
plate of locusts'', as New Zealand became more
multi-cultural, entomophagy might well become more common,
particularly as a niche market.
She said about threequarters of the Earth's population ate
all sorts of insect species willingly.
''There are about 1700 edible species of insects, so why
not?'' Dr Beggs said.
''In terms of nutrition, we are far better off [eating that]
then a lot of stuff we eat.
''Farming insects is also environmentally sustainable.
''However, it is so far out of the comfort zones for most
She said huhu grubs had been a Maori delicacy, insects at the
Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika had always been an attraction,
and a company had exported wasp larvae to Japan for a while.
''There are about 28,000 species of insects and invertebrates
in New Zealand and many of those may be potentially edible
but would require some research and a bit of work.''
She said mealworms and some other insects were already grown
commercially for pet and fishfood.
Entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste said eating insects and
invertebrate was a great idea.
''New Zealanders eat invertebrates all the time.
''What is the difference between shellfish and invertebrates
of terrestrial origin?''We are really hypocritical.
''We all know how good shellfish is but if you put a land
snail or fried cricket in front of people, they go `yuck'.
''It is just what we are used to and it is quite a dumb
response if you think about it.''
He has eaten crickets which have been deep fried or had
spices added, which he said was ''brilliant''.
''It is like seafood without the salty sea [taste] and it can
be quite bland, and you use the legs as toothpicks.
''I have had tarantula, but you eat the thorax muscle and
suck the legs out.
''It tasted like crab or freshwater crayfish, and is
He has eaten dragonfly wing muscles.
''I can see some of those things going quite well, especially
crickets and grasshoppers, but wetas are a bit shifty as they
are compost feeders.
''You are what you eat.''
He said by 2050 there was expected to be about 9 billion
people on the planet so alternative protein sources were
needed''We have to double or treble food production and to do
that we are going to have to be clever about how much we can
produce and at a much lower cost.
''Without insects we would not stand a chance of living on
this planet for more than six months.
''They are all cool,'' he said.
INSECTS ON THE MENU
- More than 1900 species of insects are eaten worldwide,
mainly in tropical countries.
- Beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers,
locusts, crickets, cicadas, planthoppers, scale insects,
termites, dragonflies and ordinary flies are eaten.
- Fishmeal, soymeal and grains can be substituted by insect
meal, which is made from larvae and pupae of flies and
- Insects, being cold-blooded, have a high feed conversion
efficiency. On average insects can convert 2kg of feed into
1kg of insect mass, whereas cattle need 8kg.
- Insects feed on bio-waste, such as dairy effluent, food and
human waste, which is converted into high quality protein for
- They use less water than conventional livestock.
- They are high protein, comparable with meat and fish.
- They are easily collected from the wild, are nutritious and
provide a cash income.
- There are no known cases of disease transmission or
parasitoids to humans from eating insects, as long as they
are handled in sanitary conditions.
- Can be processed into pastes or meal, or eaten whole, fried
The American Food and Drug Administration permits a certain
amount of insect and rodent bits in food including less than
60 aphids and/or thrips per 100gm of frozen broccoli, less
than 75 insect fragments and less than 11 rodent hairs per
25gm of ground paprika, less than 60 insect fragments in
100gm of chocolate, less than 225 insect fragments in 225gm
of macaroni and noodle products, less than 20 maggots per
100gm of canned and dried mushrooms, and less than 75 insect
fragments and 1 rodent hair in wheat flour.
New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries advises they do
not have any similar lists nor do they have any levels of
acceptable contamination in food products.