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The research showed native huhu grubs - the larvae of the huhu beetle - contained higher proportions of protein than some of New Zealand’s biggest meat crops, including beef and lamb.
The grubs were found to have a protein content ranging from 26.2% to 30.5%.
By comparison, beef contained 21% protein, lamb 20.3%, chicken 17.4%, chickpeas 20.5% and soy 13%.
The grubs were also found to be rich in essential minerals, most abundantly manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper and zinc.
Food science PhD student Ruchita Rao Kavle was the lead author of the paper, published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology.
She said the research confirmed traditional knowledge about high fat and protein levels which gave the grubs their distinctive taste which was "like peanut butter’’.
Based on the results, a person weighing 60kg would require about 75 huhu grubs to meet the same daily protein requirement that could be sourced from 230g of beef.
She admitted eating 75 huhu grubs might be "off-putting" for some, and her research was also looking into options to process the grubs into more presentable forms.
"As scientists we are trying to make it more consumer acceptable,’’ she said.
Processed huhu grub powder had the potential to be manufactured into pasta, bread and muffins.
She expected greater consumer awareness of climate change would spur interest in insects, which needed less land and water than traditional protein sources.
She was drawn to the research because of the potential to develop environmentally friendly food sources.
Her research used wild huhu grubs sourced from a pine forest near Dunedin, although she said that more research into commercial cultivation could be on the cards in the future.
Study supervisor and co-author Dr Dominic Agyei said the study was pioneering, and brought scientific evidence to highlight the nutritional value of a traditional food source.
He says that even though huhu grubs have not been accessible commercially in New Zealand, there was a growing interest in sustainability in food production, alternative proteins and the need to diversify food sources.
Eatcrawlers director Louise Burnie, who runs an online store dedicated to edible insects, said the New Zealand market for edible insects tended to be geared towards novelty consumption, although she hoped to see more widespread uptake in the future.
Founder of Otago Locusts Malcolm Diack said while eating insects was still novel for New Zealand consumers, the majority were willing to give it a go.
He was hopeful of large scale commercial cultivation in the near future, with New Zealand well placed to benefit from the trend due to a favourable regulatory environment.
He saw edible insects as complementing traditional sources of protein, such as beef and lamb.