Bugs Are Coming Soon to Your Dinner Table
July 5, 2018
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On their 500-year-old homestead in southern Finland, Kirsi and Jouko Siikonen have turned from raising pigs to farming six-legged creatures that could help resolve the world’s looming food crisis.
After shrinking income persuaded them to abandon pork, seven months ago the couple transformed the muddy pens where as many as 1,200 pigs once wallowed into a climate-controlled cricket farm. It’s on pace to yield 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of the edible protein this year, much of which is ground into an ingredient for products from chocolate and crispbread to bar snacks and breakfast granola.
“One doesn’t have to shovel manure on a cricket farm and the smell is trivial,” said Kirsi, whose family has owned the homestead since the 1500s. “The job is physically light compared to pig farming. Crickets don’t sting or bite. A pig will bite on pure curiosity.”
It isn’t just about work conditions. Insects, already part of the diets of 2 billion people, mainly in Asia, are set to reach more dining tables as consumer concern about the environmental and social costs of producing beef, pork and poultry overrides the yuck factor of eating bug-filled burger. Using little land and emitting a fraction of the greenhouses gases generated by cattle, that appeal will grow as a surging population stretches scarce global resources.
Recorded Edible Insect Species
Producing a kilogram of crickets takes less than a fifth of the feed that cattle eat to yield the same amount of beef, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization. Insects require significantly less water and don’t need either antibiotics or growth hormones.
Farming’s environmental impact by species
About 1,900 insect species are found in traditional diets, with some of the biggest markets being Thailand, Japan, China, Australia and Peru. Now they’re showing up in foods across Europe and the Americas, as well as in quirky specialty products and on restaurant menus.
Restaurant Ultima in Helsinki—opened seven weeks ago by two of Finland’s top chefs—offers a small tartlet made of hemp, topped with truffle mayonnaise and deep-fried crickets. In nearby Espoo, diners at the Fat Lizard can enjoy deep fried crickets with soft taco, lime, chili, coriander and creme fraiche.
Ground-up crickets are mostly tasteless, which makes them easy to add to foods like sausages, cookies, muffins, tofu and even ice cream. The powder is a filling option, containing far more protein than wheat flour used to make bread.
Values per 100g edible portion
“Crickets are the least-scary bug,” said Radek Husek, the co-founder of Prague and London-based SENS Foods Ltd., a maker of cricket flour for protein bars and bread.
“People are really scared to eat a whole bug, but it’s a much different story when they know that actually the bug is ground into powder and they cannot see it.”
The global market for edible insects may almost triple over the next five years to $1.18 billion, according to Meticulous Research, a Pune, India-based researcher. Output capacity has risen significantly since late 2017 as the industry draws new investment and demand prospects improve, according to Arun Nirmal, research director at Arcluster, a Singapore-based consultancy.
Bugs for Lunch
The global edible insect market is forecast to grow to over $1 billion by 2023
While the Siikonens still grow barley and oats, and sell timber from woodlands on their property in Forssa, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Helsinki, they began their cricket operation a month after Finland approved the sale of edible insects last November.
To harvest the bugs, they are frozen at the farm and then picked up by EntoCube, an Espoo-based company, which provided the farmers with the insect-rearing technology. They are then taken to a food processing plant in Helsinki, where they are washed, boiled, dried and then ground before the powder is packaged.
There are already about 20 small insect farms in the country, said Santtu Vekkeli, the co-founder of Nordic Insect Economy Ltd., which also advises producers. Another 200 Finnish farmers -- many hit hard by Russian sanctions, low prices of traditional meat and extreme weather events—are interested in the business, according to EntoCube.
With legislative changes expected to smooth the path of insects onto European plates, supermarkets are showing interest. Germany’s Metro AG is selling noodles made with insects, while Carrefour SA stores in Spain are offering 10 products including energy bars and granolas.
For the moment, it’s more expensive to raise edible insects in Europe and North America than in Asia, where higher demand provides economies of scale. Fresh crickets fetch 20 euros ($23) to 40 euros a kilogram in Europe and North America, compared with 5 euros in Thailand, home to 20,000 farms, according to EntoCube.
Edible insects are a “super-food,” according to Massimo Reverberi, the founder of Bugsolutely, which makes pasta from cricket flour in Thailand and silkworm snacks for the Chinese market.
“If you ask a team of scientists to design the perfect meat, they will probably come up with an insect,” he said. “Some people say it will be like sushi in 20 years. I am really optimistic that it may be a lot faster.”
Photo Editor: Gina Turner
With assistance from Kasper Viita and Tim Coulter
Editors: Lynn Thomasson, Steve Stroth and Dylan Griffiths