Roasted wasps instead of chips, worm burgers instead of ground beef patties. Edible insects are seen as a promising innovation in the food sector. No wonder, because even if it sounds disgusting to many at first: The edible creepy-crawlies score not only with a lot of protein and a more sustainable production than meat.
Why eat insects?
Edible insects have long been used in animal feed to meet the protein needs of livestock. But they also offer some advantages for humans:
- Protein source with vitamin B: That’s why insects are healthy
Edible insects are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and important minerals. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in all insects and the creepy-crawlies have a similar amount of protein as the meat of beef, pork or turkey, but freeze-dried a significantly higher. The exact protein content varies depending on the type of insect.
However, the type of food can influence the nutritional composition of insects. Reliable data on vitamins and minerals are still very incomplete. When considering the levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, the amount consumed must be taken into account. Currently, the majority of products available on the German market contain only small amounts of insects.
- Insects are more climate-friendly
Studies show that insects are more climate-friendly compared to meat: They require less space and water than cattle, pigs or chickens, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Critics see required operating temperature for breeding insects as problematic. In Germany, the plants would have to be heated for several months.
- Sustainable alternative to meat from farm animals
Insects also win in terms of sustainability: At 80 percent, their edible content is significantly higher than that of beef (40 percent), for example.
Enormous diversity: which insects can I eat?
In Germany, edible insects are still uncommon and often associated with disgust. Worldwide, however, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the creepy-crawlies are already serving 2 billion people as a food source. In a market check by consumer watchdogs published in October 2020, it was revealed that there are hardly any insect products to be found in stationary retail outlets. Only 32 products were found by the consumer protection experts, although the shelves of the most important retailers in Germany were systematically "combed" have been.
Among the around 2000 edible insect species belong above all
- Crickets and
Mealworms: special source of protein for athletes
The frequently used mealworm has a special added value, especially for athletes. Because if mealworms are freeze-dried, the protein content increases from 18.7 percent to 50.9 percent.
For comparison, beef has 22.3 percent, pork and chicken 22.8 percent. For this reason, there are already some mealworm-based protein bars and powders for athletes.
Where to sample edible insects?
Edible insects are now also finding their way onto the German (Internet) market and are offered in a wide variety of forms: There are them completely as a snack (z. B. fried spiced grasshoppers), in chocolate or honey, ground as insect meal (z. B. as an ingredient in insect noodles) and as protein bars and powders for athletes.
In many parts of Germany, insect burgers with Buffalo worms are also sold through a supermarket chain. And there are already the first restaurants where guests can try buffalo worms or grasshoppers.
How safe is the consumption of insects??
Insects as food are still relatively new in our country. For this reason, there is still a lack of specific regulations on this in the responsible Food Hygiene Regulation. For example, there are no clear requirements for approval and identity labeling for insect-producing and processing companies.
Austria is already one step ahead. Here is a guideline for cultivated insects as foodstuffs. This specifies, for example, that farmed insects may only be placed on the market if, after killing, they are subjected to heat treatment or treatment by other methods such as high-pressure treatment. This is to ensure that all germs are destroyed.
The market check by the consumer centers showed that there is no indication of whether the products were heated during production or subjected to another process to kill germs.
A forsa survey on foods containing insects, conducted on behalf of the consumer centers, shows that most consumers assume that they can consume the product directly. This shows that clear labeling is necessary regarding use.
What are the legal requirements for edible insects??
In the EU, insects (and insect parts) sold as food require approval under the Novel Food Regulation. Corresponding applications are in progress.
So far, applications for approval have been submitted for:
- European Migratory locust: in November 2021 as food approved in the EU
- Mealworms (Larvae of the flour beetle): as food in May 2021 Approved in the EU
- Cricket, House cricket
- Bufallo worm (larva of the glossy black grain mould beetle), whole or ground
- Tropical House cricket, dried
- Honey bee drone brood (male larva of the honey bee)
- Larva of the black Soldier fly Hermetia illucens
Everything that is offered now may not be sold due to a transitional regulation (DVO (EU) 2017/2469, Art. 8 Abs. 5) be marketed until a final decision is made.
The problem with this transitional arrangement is that insect products are currently being marketed that have not yet been evaluated by EFSA. Health risks are therefore possible.
Other conceivable risks:
- Transmission of zoonoses
(Infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa): The likelihood of zoonoses is relatively low, but cannot be ruled out. Little is known about the diseases that can affect insects.
- Use of pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals:
Farmers in Europe point out that the insects have so far been bred without the use of antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals, but there are no neutral control results so far.
- So far, there are no specific hygiene requirements for edible insects.
For example, there is a lack of clear specifications for approval and identity labeling for insect-producing and processing companies.
Where do edible insects come from?
Edible insects offered in the German food trade come from exclusively from controlled breeding. So consumers don’t have to worry about using wild-caught grasshoppers from Africa, where they are sometimes a nuisance and abundant. Such insects would not meet the hygiene regulations and legal requirements regarding food safety that apply here. Producers are responsible for ensuring that these principles are adhered to.
Insect farms now exist in many countries, z.B. in the Netherlands, Spain, but also in Germany. However, the origin of the insects does not have to be labeled on the product.
What are edible insects fed with??
For edible insects, there are no specific regulations for their feed requirements so far. It therefore applies Feed Hygiene Regulation. This regulates criteria for feed produced to feed food-producing animals. Accordingly, for example, no food waste may be fed, only additives approved for animal feed may be used, and certain microbiological requirements must be met.
With Naturland, an organic food association has set its own guidelines for organic insect farming. For feeding, it applies there that primarily organic plant by-products and residues from organic production should be used. No products should be fed that are in direct competition with foodstuffs for human consumption.
Where should insects that consumers:inside consume come from?
Only eat insects that have been bred for human consumption. You should not eat insects you have collected yourself. These are wild animals that can also feed on waste or be infested with parasites. In addition, you should also refrain from doing so with regard to insect mortality.
We also advise against eating insects from pet stores or fishing tackle stores because of the lack of hygienic safety – even if these are much cheaper. Do not get involved in experiments with home-grown insects either. The home breeding stations offered in the trade are used to obtain animal feed and the insects thus obtained are not suitable for human consumption.
Podcast: Ever tried mealworms with garlic??
Niklaas Haskamp and food expert Sabine Holzapfel from the Baden-Wurttemberg consumer advice center looked into insect foods from German stores and also tried them. Hear why insects might be suitable as food and where the risks lie in the podcast:
Eating insects – beware of allergies!
Allergy sufferers should be careful when eating insects. Because those who are allergic to crustaceans or dust mites may also have such a reaction to insects. The participants in the forsa survey did not spontaneously attribute an increased risk of allergic reactions to insects. For this reason, food containing insects must be clearly recognizable and labeled as such, and not only to protect allergy sufferers. Fancy names in the list of ingredients are not enough. Our market check has shown that there are gaps in the labeling of possible allergens on products containing insects.
These allergies can be caused by chitin or the muscle protein tropomyosin. Allergic reactions to the insects’ feed can also be problematic, z.B. on soy or wheat. However, according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), the risk of being allergic to insects is rather low.
What level of animal welfare applies to insect farming?
Insects are living creatures and therefore questions arise about species-appropriate husbandry, appropriate feed and killing. In general, however, there is still a great need for research in this area. There are so far no keeping regulations for insects in Germany – for example, how much space which insect species are needed. There is also a need for clarification on the Use of medicines such as antibiotics or fungicides and a preferably sparing killing. In neighboring Austria, there are two ways to do this:
- Deep freezing at least -18 degrees Celsius
- Boiling water or steam at more than 100 degrees Celsius (only for non-flying developmental stages such as larvae or mealworms)
According to the current state of research, by the way, insects have no sensation of pain or suffering like mammals. Whether what happens in the nervous system of insects is comparable with the human understanding of pain, however, can not be answered at this time.
- Insects or components of insects must be listed in every ingredient list and clearly highlighted as an allergy statement. The mandatory allergen labeling should be expanded as soon as possible.
- Extensive independent studies on health aspects, hygiene and diseases, environmental factors and animal welfare are needed.
- The hygiene rules for production and feeding should be made mandatory for insects. Especially with regard to possible residues such as antibiotics or hormones, the animals should be closely examined and the results made transparent.
- The consumer centers call on manufacturers to label the sprout killing process and, if necessary, to indicate that heating is required before consumption.
Other countries, other eating customs
While the thought of ant egg soup, scorpions on a stick, fried silk worms or deep-fried wasps is still strange in this country, edible insects have long since become part of everyday life in other countries. Or are even true delicacies.
Click on for a culinary insect world tour.