Revive Review: Insect Protein

Worldwide, over 200 species of insects are consumed by humans, and there is thought that there are more undiscovered edible species out there! In fact, less than 0.2% of the total estimated insect species in the world are harmful to plants, animals and humans. This poses a rather large opportunity to use insects as protein-rich alternatives to livestock with the increase in emphasis on sustainable diets. The sustainability of livestock is in question related to the large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural ammonia emissions. Can the incorporation of edible insects help reduce environmental impact? Can it increase local food security and sustainability? We think so! However, these questions need to be answered with more research into the viability of insects in the sector of food and agriculture.

The protein in edible insects helps to provide essential amino acids to compliment staple foods like taro root, yam and sweet potato. This is an important part of obtaining complete protein from diet in 3rd world nations.

In North America, there has been increasing interest in using insects as food for humans and feed for livestock. There is a company in Portland, Oregan that distributes cricket-based flours that can easily be incorporated into homemade foods such as bread, cookies, pancakes and protein bars.

cricket cookies - sue


In fact, we ordered some all-purpose cricket flour and created our very own Chocolate Chip Cricket-Cookie Recipe, higher in protein and micronutrients than your average chocolate chip cookie! (And they were delicious!)


Why We Should Eat Them

Methods to determine the nutritional quality of insects still require standardization; however, quite a few studies have found the following details:

  • Protein
    Edible insect protein content averages at around 60%. In particular, cricket, grasshopper and locusts are rich in protein and provide a valuable protein alternative. Insect protein is comparable to conventional meat products!
  • Fat
    Like conventional protein sources (i.e. meat, fish, eggs, dairy), the fat content among insect proteins vary. Insect fat content has been found to be comparable with poultry and fish.
  • Micronutrients
    Insects can be a rich source of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, copper, manganese and magnesium. Generally speaking, insects are low in vitamin A, but rich in B vitamins like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folic acid.

Changing the Stigma

Who knows? Insects might be one of the most nutritious and environmentally sustainable protein sources out there! However, what good does this do if the idea of eating bugs elicits disgust? Eating insects as a human food has always been associated with a ‘primitive living or starvation food.’ (For example, to a lesser extent, during World War II when food was being shipped over sea to feed the troops, there were numerous campaigns to promote alternative protein sources such as organ meats. People were in ‘survival mode’ – rationing food and altering the way they viewed alternative items.)

Since people have not been conditioned to eating insects, acceptability and attitude towards the idea has been low. There is movement to reform this perception:

  • Providing a taste experience to normalize the consumption of insects — One way may be to process insects into familiar products such as baked goods, sausages and meat loaf.
  • Providing information on nutritional quality and environmental sustainability.
  • Providing research information on food safety to help lower risk perception of consuming insects.
  • Making them delicious! Consumer acceptability will forever be low if the taste is not pleasing.
  • Improving availability of commercially produced insect protein products at an affordable price.

Additionally, those of us who regularly consume convention proteins (such as beef, pork, and poultry) tend to look at these proteins as food versus whole animals (i.e. cows, pigs and chickens). If we are able to remove ourselves from the thought of consuming whole insects, we may have a shot at creating a movement toward accepting edible insects as a sustainable food source in the future!

Doing it Right

Before the future of insects sweeps North America, there is need for more research! Areas that need further investigation include food safety, insect farming practices, consumer attitudes towards edible insects, more defined contribution to nutrient intake, as well as environmental impact on things like greenhouse gas production and energy and land use compared to other proteins.


Important note: Individuals who have allergies towards house dust mites and/or crustaceans (such as crab, lobster, shrimp etc.) may react to ingesting insect products related to the allergen cross-reactivity between the species.



Reference: Huis, Arnold Van. “Edible Insects Are the Future?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Proc. Nutr. Soc. (2016): 1-12. Web.