Nutritional Properties of Edible Insects

Nutritional Properties of Edible Insects

Anna K. Żołnierczyk (Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch008


Insects are the biggest animal group on earth. They constitute as much as 80% of the animal kingdom. Over 2000 species of insects are consumed in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Currently almost 1 billion people on this planet suffer from hunger, and we must strive to increase the efficiency of food production. One of the possible solutions is to use insects as a source of food. An important advantage of insect production is the high environmental safety compared to conventional livestock. Conventional animal husbandry is responsible for at least 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions and large consumption of drinking water. A much smaller amount of water is used to produce insect meat and insects require far less feed. Production of insect protein requires much less land and energy than the more widely consumed forms of animal protein. The nutritional usefulness of edible insects varies depending on the species, on the stage of development of the insect and the method of breeding and feeding. Insects have a high nutritional value. They are a rich source of protein which includes all eight essential amino acids (phenylalanine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). Edible insects contain on average 10-30% of fat in dry matter and they are good source of edible oil which contains more than 50% of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) desirable for nutritional and health reasons. The average energy value of edible insects is about 400-500 kcal/100g of dry matter. Insects also contain a variety of water soluble or lipophilic vitamins and minerals. Their consumption can build a well-balanced diet. Insects can be regarded as safe, if properly managed and consumed, but international food regulations are needed.
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From the beginning of human existence on the Earth, most of the protein supplied with food was taken by hunting or fishing, but in many places collection of insects was necessary to allow to supplement nutritional deficiencies (Tosi & Daccordi, 1983). Insects are the biggest animal group on earth, they constitute as much as 80% of the animal kingdom. It is estimated that over 2000 species of insects are consumed in almost 80% of the countries in the world (Wageningen University and Research, 2017). Eggs, larvae and adult forms of insects (Figure 1) are eaten as food in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Figure 1.

Larvae of the mealworms Tenebrio molitor (left) and the adult form of the Jamaican field cricket Gryllus assimilis (right)

Photo credit: Tomasz Lewandowski

The taste and flavour of insects are very diverse (Payne, 2018). We can compare them to the ingredients we know and the ways of cooking are no different from the traditional ones. Also, insects can absorb the taste of the chosen seasoning with which they are fed. The total number of ethnic groups practicing entomophagy (from the Greek words ἔντομον éntomon meaning “insect” and φᾰγεῖν phagein meaning “to eat”) exceeds 3000 (Ramos-Elorduy, 1998; MacEvilly, 2000). Entomophagy is not well accepted in western European populations but it is common in the world.

It is considered that eating insects may reduce the environmental risks (FAO, 2016). Insect breeding compared to livestock farms (pigs, cattle and poultry) releases six to ten times less ammonia (Oonincx, Kgomotso, & Letswiti, 2010). Conventional animal husbandry is responsible for at least 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and massive consumption of drinking water. Much smaller amounts of water are used to produce insect meat. Insects are able to derive their moisture demand from food. Also they require far less feed. For example, the production of 1 kg of live animal weight of crickets requires as little as 1.7 kg of feed (Collavo, Glew, Huang, Chuang, Bosse, & Paoletti, 2005). Typically, 1 kg of live animal weight in a conventional production system demands 2.5 kg of feed for chicken, 5 kg for pork and 10 kg for beef (Smil, 2002). Moreover, the production of insect protein takes much less land and energy than the more widely consumed forms of animal protein (Halloran, Hanboonsong, Roos, & Bruun, 2017; Oonincx & de Boer, 2012; Premalatha, Abbasi, Abbasi, & Abbasi, 2011). Edible insects can be grown at home, on small farms or large industrial facilities anywhere in the world. The interest in using insects for nutritional purposes is justified because (apart from nutritional qualities) insects are characterized by high survival capacity in various ecological conditions, short life cycle and high reproductive ability (DeFoliart, 1999; Illgner & Nel, 2000; Renault, Laparie, McCauley, & Bonte, 2018). However, it is first necessary to establish international food regulations regarding the safety of insect food products (Rumpold & Schluter, 2013a). Also, in countries where there is no tradition of eating insects, it takes time for people to get used to new possibilities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fatty Acids Profile: Percentage of fatty acids in food.

Nutrient Content: A source of nourishment, especially a nourishing ingredient in a food.

Greenhouse Gas: Gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation (for example carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons).

Insect Farming: The practice of raising insects as livestock. Insect farming in a closed or indoor environment is an important means for making food available continuously year-round.

Animal Protein: Protein is built from building blocks (amino acids); our bodies make amino acids from scratch, or by modifying others but a few amino acids (known as the essential amino acids) must come from food. Animal sources of protein tend to deliver all amino acids we need. Other protein sources, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, may lack one or more essential amino acids.

Vitamins: A group of organic compounds which are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body; they have diverse biochemical functions.

Energy Value/Content: The amount of energy available from an item of food when digested, mostly from carbohydrates and fats.

Entomophagy: From the Greek words ??t?µ?? éntomon – insect, and f??e?? phagein – to eat; the human use of insects as food.

Trace Minerals: Essential minerals, such as iron, zinc, selenium, fluoride, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, and molybdenum, which help the body perform regulatory and structural functions.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs): Acids with one double bond in the fatty acid chain, the remaining carbon atoms are bound by single bond.

Macrominerals: A number of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfurase, which are needed in large amounts to maintain the proper functioning of an organism.

Nutritive Value: The contribution of a food to the nutrient content of the diet. This value depends on the quantity of the food which is digested and absorbed and the amounts of the essential nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins) which it contains.

World Health Organization (WHO): An international organization whose primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations’ system and to lead partners in global health responses.

Conventional Livestock: Domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce meat, eggs, milk, leather, wool, and other products.

Protein Bars: Lower in carb, vitamins, and dietary minerals and significantly higher in protein than other bars; they are mainly used by athletes for muscle building.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): A specialized agency of the United Nations which leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

Food Allergy: An immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food; causes digestive problems, hives or swollen airways, in some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Essential Nutrient: A nutrient required for normal body functioning which cannot be synthesized by the organism and must be provided by the diet.

Diet: The sum of the food consumed by a person or another organism.

Essential Amino Acid: An amino acid which is required for normal health and growth but cannot be synthesized de novo (from scratch) by the organism, and thus must be supplied in the diet.

Essential Fatty Acid (EFA): An unsaturated fatty acid that is essential to human health, but cannot be manufactured in the body; supplementation with EFAs could be useful as a treatment for certain neurological disorders.

European Food Safety Agency (EFSA): An organization which provides scientific advice and communications about existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs): Fatty acids with two or more double bonds between the carbon atoms.

Fiber: Dietary material containing substances such as cellulose, lignin, and pectin, that are resistant to the action of digestive enzymes.

Edible Insects: Insects which can be consumed by humans.

Insect Protein: A new source for animal feed and food; as protein sources, the nutritive value of edible insects is as good as other animals (or plants) or even better.

Saturated Fatty Acids (SFAs): Fatty acids in which all carbon atoms in the hydrocarbon chain are joined by single bonds. They exist mostly as components of fats (triglycerides) or other lipids of animal origin; a diet high in saturated fatty acids may contribute to a high blood cholesterol level.

Organoleptic Properties: The aspects of food that an individual experiences via the senses—including taste, sight (color), smell, and touch (texture).

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