Most German consumers consider eating insects disgusting. On the other hand, only concentrated marketing poetry helps, according to the company Wuestengarnele.de, an online supplier of insect food.
The result sounds like this: "The nutty aroma of the roasted mealworms harmonises very well with the milk chocolate and creates a light crunchy effect in the mouth. The taste adventure is rounded off with a hint of sea salt.” The copywriters from Wuestengarnele.de advertise their product “Dschungelade” in such a sensual way, the 50 gram bar for a whopping 3.99 euros.
But human food based on crickets, fly larvae, worms
"Anyone who wants to buy edible insects or food containing insects in Germany will find it more and more easily," recently noted the Federal Center for Nutrition. At the Green Week in Berlin, visitors were recently able to taste insects at the stand of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). "As a protein-rich superfood, you can make an important contribution to reducing hunger in the world," was the reasoning.
Another aspect is now coming to the fore: The production of food based on insects relieves the global climate compared to meat production with conventional livestock. This is one of the reasons why the EU Commission has approved other insect products. The corresponding ordinance came into force on January 24th.
House crickets (“house crickets”) and larvae of the grain mold beetle (“buffalo worms”) ground into powder are now – as has been the case for some time in Switzerland – now also considered harmless to health in the Union.
They may be added to baked goods, pasta, sauces or meat substitutes in proportions of up to ten percent. Some other creepy-crawlies, such as mealworms and grasshoppers, have been allowed for five years.
Also because, according to UN forecasts, the world population will grow by two billion to ten billion people by the middle of this century, agricultural scientists and politicians are increasingly looking for climate-friendly alternatives to conventional food sources. In addition to insects, these include plant-based meat substitutes and test-tube meat.
According to a study by the Federal Environment Agency, the production of one kilogram of beef produces greenhouse gas emissions that correspond to more than 30 kilograms of CO₂ - mainly because the ruminants release relatively large amounts of the highly effective greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere during digestion.
For poultry, this figure is only 4.3 kilograms, while pig production accounts for 4.1 kilograms. According to the experts’ calculations, one kilogram of insect-based meat substitutes can be produced with just three kilograms of CO₂ emissions. Only plants perform slightly better in this discipline.
The insects have an advantage not least because of their enormous bio-productivity. A female black soldier fly lays up to 500 eggs during her lifespan of just a few weeks. The larvae that hatch out weigh six kilograms. Two kilos of larvae meal can be obtained from this, half of which is pure protein.
In addition, the edible portion of the body weight of insects is usually between 85 and 100 percent. In the case of beef, pork and poultry, this only applies to 50 to 55 percent – the rest is slaughterhouse waste such as bones, hooves or offal.
At the same time, insects are particularly frugal. According to experts, only one-twelfth the amount of feed is required to breed edible crickets than for beef. When it comes to water consumption and space requirements, the small animals perform similarly well.
However, the environmental bill only works if certain conditions are met. Breeding facilities for mealworms have to be heated in our latitudes, otherwise the cold-blooded small animals will not thrive. This costs a lot of energy if the systems are not optimally insulated.
If the insect breeders feed their insects with soy that has previously been shipped halfway around the world, the climate balance is also worse. Fishmeal or cereals used as insect food also increase emissions.
House crickets and mealworms need at least 2.2 kilograms of food to gain one kilogram in weight. Although this is considerably less than with two-legged or four-legged livestock, there are still considerable amounts.
If, on the other hand, insects are fed with organic residues that would otherwise end up in the compost, the positive effect on the climate is astounding. "There is great potential to optimize insect breeding by using feed from waste or by-products," says the analysis of the environmental agency.
Mealworms then thrive particularly well on waste from the food industry. Crickets are more picky about food, while some fly species even pounce on household waste or liquid manure. However, fly larvae fattened in this way are no longer suitable for human consumption. But the animal feed industry has discovered insects as a cheap source of protein.
However, experts warn against exaggerated expectations of meat alternatives. "I think that people who give up meat because of the climate overestimate their contribution," Dutch agricultural and nutritionist Louise Fresco recently told the Flemish business newspaper "Tijd".
No method of food production is entirely carbon neutral. The new alternative products would also be processed particularly intensively in order to adjust the consistency and taste. Meanwhile, conventional meat can make an additional contribution to supplying people with high-quality food, especially if it is produced on land where arable farming is not possible.
When it comes to nutrients, insect food also scores well. Nutrition experts praise a high content of valuable ingredients such as proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and minerals such as copper, magnesium or zinc. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) once described insect food as the "meat of the future".
And consumer choice is growing. Although some manufacturing start-ups had to give up towards the end of last year, numerous variants are not only offered online, but also on supermarket shelves. Two years ago, the German consumer centers counted three dozen foods containing insects in stationary retail, from protein bars to burgers with 45 percent buffalo worm.
The Novel Food Regulation, which has been in force since 2018 and regulates the approval of novel foods from exotic fruits to creepy crawlies in the EU, also ensures that the food industry does not mix insect meal into the pasta dough unnoticed by consumers - for cost reasons, for example.
The presence of house crickets, larvae or worms as a source of protein does not necessarily have to be pointed out conspicuously on the packaging. But at the latest a look at the list of ingredients reveals this, because insects, like all other ingredients, have to be listed in the list of ingredients according to certain rules.
The animal of origin must be given with a German and Latin name. The text can then read something like: "Contains partially defatted powder of domestic cricket/Acheta domesticus."
Hypersensitive people should pay special attention to this. "Anyone who has an allergy to crustaceans and molluscs such as shrimp, mussels or snails or to house dust mites should be careful with insect foods," advise the consumer advice centers.
Edible insects often contain similar substances that could lead to cross-reactions. The further insect food emerges from the tiny market niche that it currently occupies in Europe, the more indispensable it will be to take a critical look at the list of ingredients in the future.
The majority of consumers tolerate the substance without any problems. Insects have always been on the menu in many parts of the world. In Germany, too, the disgust factor could disappear if the food culture changes again.
Many foods have made a career from scary exotic to delicacy. Three decades ago, for example, hardly any German could imagine ever eating raw fish. Today there is a sushi-to-go stand in every better Edeka or Rewe market.
Crackers made from cricket flour, grasshoppers on a stick or vodka “with real mealworms” (advertising) may also be part of everyday culinary life in Germany in a few years. Researchers and industry are working on it.
"You get people to eat insects by instilling an attitude that it's not weird or even gross -- that's a lot of people's spontaneous reaction -- but that it has a culinary value of its own," says nutritionist Nanna Roos from the University of Copenhagen in an image video of the European research project Susinchain.
Everything else is prejudice. Roos is certain: "If you eat shrimp, you might as well eat crickets."
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