By Janey Davies | Inside 3DP
Did you know that insects make up 80% of all the world’s living species? And that there are around 10 quintillion individual insects alive today (think a billion and then add 11 more zeros)? Why am I telling you this? Because experts predict that with a couple of decades, as the population of the world increases, we will have to look to alternative food sources to provide us with nutrition, and one solution is insects.
But many of us have watched those popular TV shows in which celebrities grit their teeth whilst they attempt to eat the most gruesome six-legged creatures. So how are dietitians trying to make insects more palatable and acceptable as a mainstream foodstuff? By combining them with 3D printing technology.
Insects Au Gratin is a project headed up by Susana Soares at the London South Banks University (LSBU) and Dr Ken Spears, which looks at encouraging more people to eat insects by changing the way they are presented, and therefore how we view them.
The insects are made into food products by first drying them and then grinding the bodies into a fine ‘flour’ like powder. This flour can then be combined with other substances and 3D printed to make a host of other products, such as chocolate, cream cheese, icing sugar butters and various spices.
“We are using this very hi-tech printing ability to try to encourage people to consider a new protein source. We have then been turning them into flour, combining that with a fondant paste and using that in a 3D printer”, Dr Ken Spears said.
Insects are used not because they are so prolific, but also because they provide a rich source of vitamins and nutrition. For instance, one dung beetle contains more iron in proportion to the same amount of steak, and four crickets provide as much calcium as a large glass of milk, whilst one hundred grams of grasshoppers has 26 grams of protein with just six grams of fat, compared to sirloin beef which has 29 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat.
“Mealworms have proved to be quite useful – you can get a 40 to 50 per cent protein count. We’ve made some block products, a bread, but we think we can draw more on the potential of insects as food by using 3D printing,” Dr Spears said
But insects are already available in various edible forms, sold as unusual and quirky fun snacks in high end retailers, so is this going to be just another fad that quickly falls out of favor with the general public?
Soares thinks the overall food shortage problem is more serious than a few packets of chocolate covered scorpions. And with predictions by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN warning that with a population increase heading towards 9 billion by 2050, there will be even pressure on our agriculture than ever before.
“As the population grows, insects will be a solution to some food problems.” Soares said.
Dr Spears believes that by eating insects, people will not only get a valuable source of proteins, minerals and vitamins, but the demand on the environment will be decreased and a sustainable food resource could also be realized.
Of course, there are many countries such as Africa, Asia and South America that already eat insects (entomophagy) but for most westerners the thought is certainly not appealing. The Insects au Gratin project hopes to make entomophagy more commonplace and acceptable, and eventually put insects into manufactured food and perhaps even onto our daily plates.
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