- September 1, 2022
- Posted by: IGBAJI U.C.
- Category: Research News
Eating Bugs and Ants – Solution to climate change or a myth?
Eating insects is no longer news. Very soon, humans will add ants and bugs to their food class. This article will review eating bugs and ants to understand if it has any relationship with climate change or if it is just a myth. The post will discuss the following:
- Insects and entomophagy
- Earliest History of Man-Eating Insects
- Eating bugs around the world
- Insects as a source of nutrition
- Benefits of Insects
- Contribution of some companies to insect consumption
- Other research on insects and their benefits
The practice of consuming insects, particularly by humans, is known as entomophagy. For thousands of years, people have harvested some insect species’ larvae, eggs, pupae, and adults from forests and other suitable environments for food.
Many tropical nations still engage in this activity because some bug species are plentiful, develop to huge sizes, and are relatively simple to harvest year-round. A wonderful source of proteins, vitamins, lipids, and necessary minerals is eating insects. There is a compelling argument in favour of mass-producing insects for food since it is likely less harmful to the environment than other methods of producing protein.
For instance, raising cattle for meat and removing tropical rainforests are both quite harmful. Insects are five times as effective as cattle at converting food into edible tissue. When combined with their high rates of reproduction and rapid developmental durations, this means that insects are 20 times more effective at converting food into edible tissue than cattle.
Even now, 80% of the world’s population in Africa, Asia, and Latin America still consumes edible insects like termites, fire ants, grasshoppers, and crickets. This practice dates back to before the start of civilization.
Since the dawn of time, people have enjoyed eating fiery leafcutter ants, savoury crickets, sweet honeypot ants, and a variety of other mouthwatering insect delicacies. Even today, people still consume insects. Insect consumption has existed since the dawn of civilization.
But not only did the first apes enjoy eating grasshoppers and grubs. The custom persisted as humankind developed throughout history in the ancient civilizations of China, Rome, and Greece. Later, eating insects was mostly restricted to tropical regions of the world during the Middle Ages and Early Modern era. Being both kosher and halal, it was also recognized as a custom in the divine writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Before the advent of civilization, people have eaten edible insects like bugs, crickets, grasshoppers, termites, and fire ants; 80% of the world’s population still does so in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even though the United States Food and Drug Administration permitted eating insects for human consumption years ago, American consumers have been sluggish to adopt the practice.
Snack products like Exo-protein bars and Chirp Chips have created a specialized market. In addition, companies like Purina started acquiring bugs for their products when the Food and Drug Administration approved insects for pet foods earlier this year. Around the world, more than two billion people regularly eat insects, which are also good sources of protein, minerals, vitamins, and healthy fats.
Following a ground-breaking new study, eating ants and other insects may soon be advised to prevent cancer and other ailments. Italian researchers conducted a number of experiments that demonstrate the presence of significant antioxidant concentrations in the common invertebrate as well as other invertebrates like grasshoppers and crickets.
The substances are crucial for lowering the chemical reactions that result in free radicals, which are thought to increase the risk of cancer. Additionally, they have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Fruits and vegetables, among other foods, contain antioxidants. Nevertheless, many of them eaten in the UK have a poor carbon footprint.
Insects and Entomophagy
The Greek words “éntomon” (insect) and “phagein” (to eat) are the origins of the word “entomophagy,” which means to consume insects. The term “entomophagy” refers to the habit of eating insects, which is widespread around the world and is especially common in Africa, China, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and several of the developing nations of Central and South America.
The most common insect eaten by humans is the beetle, which is followed by bees, caterpillars, wasps, grasshoppers, ants, crickets, and locusts. Of all the insect species available for human consumption, African caterpillars (Lepidoptera), beetles(Coleoptera), and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and ants) account for 18, 31, and 14 percentages, respectively, of global insect consumption. In total, more than 1,900 different bug species are regarded as edible.
Thus, 80% of the world’s nations actually consume insects. Since the bugs grow the largest and easiest to harvest in tropical areas, the majority of these individuals live there. The civilizations have also accepted them for a while, mostly locally.
Earliest History of man eating insects
Since the beginning of time, consuming insects has played a significant role in the diet of the most ape-like humans. Our last common ancestor consumed insects six million years ago. We can re-create what life was like for our half-human, half-ape brethren because modern chimpanzees have a lot of similarities with their environment.
There is evidence that primates frequently consumed termite mounds by placing a stick inside the nest, waiting for the termites to climb on top, and then biting the insects off. Termites were necessary because they supplied protein, which was missing in their diet, which mostly consisted of fruit. Furthermore, according to Jun Mitsuhashi’s archaeological research, ancient people’s petrified excrement also contained beetle larvae, ants, lice, mites, and ticks.
Two million years later, the more developed Australopithecines, who could walk on two legs and manufacture tools, continued to rely heavily on insects as a food source. They dug for termites with bone tools, unlike earlier generations. A group of scientists who created comparable bone instruments and employed them, in the same manner, made this discovery.
The markings on the wear and fear compared perfectly to those on tools made of fossilised bone. In order to get the protein, they needed to support their greater brain capacities, Homo erectus, an evolutionary species that first appeared 1.9 million years ago and had the ability to use fire and prepare food, chose to forage for insects.
However, the skill of consuming insects started to disappear with the arrival of the Neanderthals 250,000 years ago. During the Ice Age, Neanderthals abandoned their native Africa and migrated to chilly Europe. Due to the extreme cold, there were few insects to forage for, and those that did exist were not very warm gatherings, so they chose to eat large wildlife. As a result, Europe never developed a robust tradition of eating insects.
However, not everyone chose to relocate to Europe. Because of the ice bridge connecting Siberia and North America, many people moved to more tropical areas like South America, where the practice of eating insects persisted and is still prevalent today.
In reality, only Japan, China, and Mexico are among the non-tropical nations where eating insects is still common. Despite this, farming remained the most often used means of producing food. It was favoured because harvesting insects was more challenging than cultivating crops because they were small and difficult to find and because the expanding populations of these early people could only be supported by the higher yields of agriculture.
In addition, when agriculture gained more popularity, insects turned into the enemy due to the destruction of crops by locust swarms and other pests. Furthermore, domesticating animals improved the efficiency of producing much-needed protein. Even while agriculture gradually overtook insect eating, it nevertheless played a supporting role, with dishes such as fried winged termites in Ghana, fire-roasted tarantulas in Latin America, and boiled dragonflies in Indonesia still being enjoyed today.
5.0 Eating bugs around the world -Eating Bugs and Ants
- Termites are frequently cooked and consumed as food in Nigeria, especially during the rainy season.
- The largest variety of bugs appears to be consumed in Southeast Asia. There are outdoor marketplaces where you can find many various kinds of preparations and insects. Beetle adults and larvae, caterpillars, enormous water bugs, tarantulas, scorpions, crickets, grasshoppers, and other creatures are among them.
- Grasshoppers, cicadas, and ants have all been used as food by numerous Native American tribes.
- Chapulines are the name for fried grasshoppers in Mexico.
- In east Asia, silkworm pupa is consumed. The pupa wraps themselves in cocoons, which are then heated. Then, the cocoons are unwound into lengthy silk strands that are used to create cloth. Next, the pupa is fried and consumed. If the pupa is allowed to emerge normally from the cocoons, they sever some of the silk and shorten the threads.
- Lake flies are harvested from swarms and made into fried patties in Lake Malawi, Africa. These patties have seven times the protein of beef.
- The British Broadcasting Corporation claims that an Aztec “caviar” was made with fried ahuautle patties, which are made from water-fly eggs.
- Two different species of caterpillars produce the mezcal worm, which is consumed and used to flavour alcoholic mezcal.
- Escamol is the fried larva and pupa of ants.
- Honeypot ants were consumed by Aboriginal Australians as a pleasant and sweet treat.
- Witchetty grubs, a type of moth larva, are a vital source of nutrition for desert animals.
6.0 Insects as a source of Nutrition
Insects may contain the same amount of iron, magnesium, and other nutrients as steak, according to a previous study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Additionally, ACS researchers discovered that compared to beef, grasshoppers and crickets are a far superior source of numerous minerals, particularly iron. Chemically accessible copper, calcium, and zinc concentrations were higher in grasshoppers, termites, and mealworms than in sirloin.
Crickets, like other insects, contain fibres, such as chitin, that are different from the nutritional fibre found in meals like fruits and vegetables. Protein, Iron, and vitamin B12 are all found in crickets, which are also a good source of both.
In addition to being quite popular in Mexico, Latin America, and several regions of Africa and Asia, grasshoppers are also a good source of protein. Termites, which are abundant in protein, iron, fatty acids, and calcium, join the group. They can be smoked, fried, or sun-dried. In some parts of South America and India, expensive recipes use ants, which are claimed to have a lemony flavour.
7.0 Benefits of eating ants and insects
Numerous studies have demonstrated that insects including grasshoppers, termites, and crickets have historically been consumed for their nutritional worth. Insects that can be eaten are a great source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fibre, minerals, and vitamins. According to a 2013 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), approximately two billion people worldwide eat insects as part of a traditional diet.
Insects might also be bioengineered to cure diseases like diabetes, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), rheumatoid arthritis, wounds, obesity, and malnutrition, among others.
When compared to animals like tarantulas and black scorpions, which are themselves carnivorous, insects who were vegetarians had a considerably better antioxidant capacity. However, there are several foods that contain antioxidants, including fruit and vegetables.
But many of these that are consumed leave a large carbon footprint. Grasshoppers, black ants, and mealworms have the highest concentrations of total polyphenols, which is another way to describe an organism’s capacity for antioxidant protection. The antioxidant capacity of fat-soluble extracts from silkworms, giant cicada, and African caterpillars was double that of olive oil.
Termites are used as a therapeutic resource to treat conditions such as pregnancy-related illnesses, hoarseness, wounds, sinusitis, malnutrition, and vitamin deficiencies. Researchers have also looked into using natural insect compounds as a potential source for complementary therapies.
Crickets encourage the formation of beneficial microorganisms and lessen inflammation. The most current scientific experiment, which was only just published in Scientific Reports, found that eating crickets is not only safe at large dosages but may also lower inflammation in the body. Eating crickets can encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
The consumption of insects helps prevent cancer. Following a ground-breaking new study, it may soon be advised to eat ants and other insects to prevent cancer. Italian researchers conducted a number of experiments that demonstrate the presence of significant antioxidant concentrations in the common invertebrate as well as other insects like grasshoppers and crickets.
The substances are crucial for lowering the chemical reactions that result in free radicals, which are thought to increase the risk of cancer. Additionally, they have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Furthermore, some forms of fibre commonly referred to as probiotics, encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria and act as a source of food for microorganisms.
8.0 Contributions of some companies to insect consumption
Sainsbury’s recently made the announcement that it would introduce Eat Grub’s Smoky BBQ Crunchy Roasted Crickets in 250 stores nationwide, making it the first British supermarket to carry edible bugs.
Chouquette Chocolates are produced in Maryland during the cicada season. First, the fresh cicadas are frozen, then they are submerged for ten seconds in boiling water. The bugs are air-fried for three minutes with your choice of spices and oil. They are afterwards chilled and covered in chocolate.
The East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan is home to the Black Ant, a restaurant that emphasizes employing traditional Mexican ingredients like chocolate, corn, and cinnamon in its food. Black Ant is renowned for its bug-themed speciality dishes, which include enchapulinados, black ant guacamole with black ant salt, and tlayuda (a tortilla topped with cheese and fresh salsa and sautéed grasshoppers) (a corn tortilla with grasshopper coated fried shrimp, avocado cream, apple slaw, and salsa Morita).
An unusual selection of over 500 different hot sauces, 30 different animals frozen or in jerky form, and 50 flavours of cotton candy are available at the Ocean City, New Jersey-based company Goodies Gone Wild. Additionally, the business sells edible critters, such as super worms wrapped in chocolate, crickets, tarantulas, and grasshoppers.
The culinary crew at Mazi, a restaurant located on Southeast Division Street in Portland, Oregon, is directed by Chef Marc, who enjoys experimenting with new ingredients and cooking methods. Although spider rolls are listed on the menu, no spiders are really present in the dish. However, grasshopper sushi, which actually includes actual grasshoppers on top of rice, is the most popular dish on the menu.
In Miami’s Wynwood neighbourhood, the 6,000-square-foot Bakan restaurant offers diners a “true Mexican experience” by letting them watch tortillas being made. The four unusual bug-themed items on the menu include guzanos de maguey (pan-fried agave worms), toastada de chapulines, escamoles (butter, ant eggs, and epazote), and salsa de hormigas chicatanas (chicatana ants salsa, olive oil, peanuts, and guajillo and arbol chilies) (crispy grasshoppers, guacamole and cotija cheese on blue corn tortilla).
In some areas of London, Deliveroo users began having the option to purchase snacks including buffalo worms wrapped in beta leaves, salted cricket and smoked tomato salad, and spicy cricket rice cakes using an application in 2017.
9.0 Other research on insects and benefits -Eating Bugs and Ants
Entomophagy is a widespread practice around the world, including in developing areas of Central and South America, Africa, China, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. A prior study that was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry suggested that insects might have the same nutritional content as steak in terms of magnesium, iron, and other minerals. Additionally, American Chemical Society (ACS) researchers discovered that compared to beef, grasshoppers and crickets are a far superior source of numerous minerals, particularly iron.
Indian researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences at Presidency University in Kolkata, the Department of Zoology at Darjeeling Government College in West Bengal, and the Department of Zoology at Scottish Church College in Kolkata investigated advances in the bioengineering of naturally occurring insect products with potential applications in contemporary medicines as well as the use of insects as models for studying fundamental mammalian processes like immune responses to pathogens. World Science News published the study.
The new University of Wisconsin-Madison experiment in the United States (U.S.) investigated if insect fibres could affect the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The American researchers also sought to measure the levels of blood enzymes, blood glucose, and TNF-alpha, a protein linked to inflammation. The University of Wisconsin-Madison study, which examined the effects of two different breakfasts, included 20 participants.
For the first two weeks, participants either consumed a control breakfast or one that included smoothies and muffins cooked with 25g of powdered cricket meal. Each volunteer then switched back to a normal diet for a two-week‘ washout period’ in the middle of the research. Then, for the final two weeks, they consumed the breakfast that was skipped during the first two weeks, which was either crickets or a control. Participants’ blood was drawn at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of the study, which was reported in Scientific Reports.
Analysts predict that the market for insect protein will surpass $4.1 billion during the next five years, with global investments in the sector roughly doubling to about $475 million in 2020. According to a recent Rabobank estimate, by 2030, the 10,000 metric tonnes of insects currently raised each year would increase to 500,000 metric tonnes.
In contrast, the animal feed sector is much larger and is predicted to grow from $345 billion in 2020 to $460 billion by 2026. In a time when the cost of agrochemical inputs is rising and freshwater resources are getting more scarce, this industry depends significantly on the water and carbon-intensive growing of grains. More than a third of the world’s grain production is used by animal farms. The percentage is almost exactly half in the United States. The biggest chance for this industry to increase climate resilience and aid in the management of the food waste crisis may lie in insect-based animal feeds.
CONCLUSION -Eating Bugs and Ants
The practice of entomophagy has been around since the prehistoric era and is still prevalent now in many areas. Even while eating insects is still unusual for Western consumers, more individuals are becoming familiar with them. These little critters may not only offer a solution to the problem of food security on this planet but also serve as a supply of animal protein for humans during deep space travel in the future, thanks to their nutritional benefits and environmental advantages.
Despite the enormous potential of edible insects, more research is necessary to evaluate their nutritional value and safety, as well as to produce and process them in large quantities, design products, and test them on consumers.
Furthermore, policymakers should promptly alter legislation to reflect the current situation in order to encourage businesses and researchers to do studies on insect-based food and to increase public interest in entomophagy. The actual situation of international law concerning the consumption of insects as food varies widely between jurisdictions or is nonexistent.
This scenario can be explained by the fact that some countries consider insects to be a common source of food; as a result, no additional law is needed beyond the usual rules for food. Policymakers have not foreseen the proportion in locations where entomophagy was not a habit or is only now heading up, hence the set of regulations are behind. Food law is a dynamic system that should interact and adapt to local demands as well as to trends and innovations occurring around the world.
Entomophagy (2019), Encyclopedia of Food Chemistry
Other related concerns:
- what happens if we eat black ants by mistake?
- What are the benefits of eating red ants?
- is eating ants good for eyes?
- can you eat ants raw?
- do flies eat ants?
- Is it OK to eat ants?
- Why are people grossed out by eating bugs?
- What are the side effects of eating bugs?
- Is eating bugs a good idea?
Additional Resources from FAO: Edible insects