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03 December 2023

Swap your steak for bugs and worms

People try an insect snack (meal worm pralines) during a break in the lecture given by Professor Arnold van Huis at the University of Wageningen. (REUTERS)

By Reuters

All you need to do to save the rainforest, improve your diet, better your health, cut global carbon emissions and slash your food budget is eat bugs.

Mealworm quiche, grasshopper springrolls and cuisine made from other creepy crawlies is the answer to the global food crisis, shrinking land and water resources and climate-changing carbon emissions, Dutch scientist Arnold van Huis says.

The professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands said insects have more protein than cattle per bite, cost less to raise, consume less water and don't have much of a carbon footprint. He even has plans for a cookbook to make bug food a more appetising prospect for mature palates.

"Children don't have a problem with eating insects, but adults with developed eating habits do, and only tasting and experience can make them change their minds," Van Huis said.

"The problem is psychological."

Van Huis has organised lectures, food tastings, and cookery classes with a master chef who demonstrates how to prepare a range of recipes using bugs, worms and grasshoppers, all bred - or raised - at a Dutch insect farm for consumption.

To attract more insect-eaters, Van Huis and his team of scientists at Wageningen have worked with a local cooking school to produce a cookbook and suitable recipes.

Chef Henk van Gurp, who created recipes for mealworm quiche and chocolate pralines with buffalo worms, sees no reason to disguise the ingredients, and sprinkles mealworms on top of the quiche filling and onto the chocolate buffalo worms as protein.

"I try to make my food in a way that people can see what they eat," he told Reuters. "Once international leading chefs begin preparing this food, others will follow."

Grasshoppers are considered a tasty snack in Asian countries including Thailand and Vietnam, but are not a feature on the Dutch menu. Van Huis says Europeans should consider insects an alternative source of protein because they can contain up 90 percent protein, compared with 40-70 percent for beef.

"Meat consumption is expected to double from 2000 to 2050. We are already using 70 percent of our agricultural land for livestock and we cannot afford to spare more," he said.

Plus raising cattle is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases emissions.

Insects are already bred as food for birds, lizards and monkeys at the Callis family's farm near the university, and now the owners see a chance to sell bugs for human consumption.

"It is good food, of high nutritional value, and very healthy for elderly people," said Margot Callis. Though she cannot eat insects herself because she is allergic to them.

Duyugu Tatar, a 24-year old IT consultant who attended a recent lecture and food-tasting at the university, was less effusive about the mealworm quiche.

"The taste was not that awful, but the idea of eating them horrified me. It was crispy. The taste was not like normal food. Not like meat, vegetable, or fruit. Maybe something like cornflakes," she said.

"It took a lot of courage to eat it, I usually smash them (insects) when I see them. I am not used to eating them. I don't know if I would eat it again."