From crickets to scorpions, why people are eating insects for fun

Article originally found here.

Rasha Ali, USA TODAY

People are eating insects for fun, and we want to know why anyone would ever voluntarily put a bug in their mouth.

We're not talking about eating them for the wow factor like kids do with scorpion lollipops and tequila-flavored worm suckers. Eating insects is becoming popular for nutritional reasons, and the practice is called entomophagy. It's also not as weird or unusual as one may think. 

According to a report by Global Market Insights, the world edible insect market will exceed $710 million by 2024. Although it's starting to become a U.S. trend, eating insects has been common in other parts of the world. 

"Despite being quite taboo in the United States, people from around the world have been consuming everything from beondegi (silkworm pupae) in South Korea to ishwa (flying ants) in Zimbabwe for centuries," said Tessa Nguyen, a chef, registered dietitian and founder of Taste Nutrition Consulting.

Kyle Morgan, grocery manager at MOM's Organic Market in Washington, D.C., holds a dinner plate of whole mealworms and Moroccan crickets.   (Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/Getty Images)

Kyle Morgan, grocery manager at MOM's Organic Market in Washington, D.C., holds a dinner plate of whole mealworms and Moroccan crickets. (Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/Getty Images)

As for why they're becoming more popular in Western society? It's mostly for health and environmental reasons. As people look toward alternative protein sources to reduce – or eliminate – their intake of animal products or their carbon footprints, insects become a viable substitute. 

Eating less meat can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Those on a plant-based diet or those who eat meat sparingly are often at lower risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Replacing meat with an alternative protein source like edible insects can alleviate the health concerns that come with eating meat while still providing needed protein.

Jessica Jones, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy, a wellness food blog, said insects are lauded for having a high protein content while having a small impact on the environment. 

"These days, insects may be gaining more traction in the West for environmental reasons," Jones said. "According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs. They also reportedly need a lot less land and water."

You'll start seeing more insect products like cricket protein powder and protein bars, the latter of which you can even find at Whole FoodsCricket chips are a thing, too – they're made from cricket flour. The list goes on to include chocolate-covered scorpions and roasted mealworms. Insects can also be fed to pets, like these cricket-infused dog treats

Edible crickets – in a variety of flavors – are on display at MOM's Organic Market in Rockville, Maryland.   (Photo: Jasper Colt)

Edible crickets – in a variety of flavors – are on display at MOM's Organic Market in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo: Jasper Colt)


"People who are just starting out on the journey of eating insects may partake for any number of reasons, including honoring cultural traditions, looking to be adventurous and/or choosing an environmentally friendly protein source," Nguyen said. 

Even the United Nations recommends edible insects for those in areas with food security concerns because they provide vital nutrients for people like vitamins, amino acids and protein. 

While eating insects may be on the rise, you don't have to eat insects for protein if you don't want to.

"There are plenty of other (non meat) protein options – like tofu, almonds and lentils – which provide many of the same nutritional benefits," Jones said.