With 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, conventional meat production makes a massive contribution to climate change. In the search for environmentally friendly protein sources of equal quality, attention is increasingly turning to insect-based foods.
Grasshoppers, mealworms and other insects are true delicacies and are a regular part of the daily diet in certain parts of the world. In Western cultures, foods made from insect “meat” are only found on the menus of exotic restaurants. “A salad with insect dressing in a German home restaurant? Unimaginable, at least until now,” says a statement from Wilhelm Büchner University (WBH), which has now investigated the nutritional value and sustainability of insect-based nutrition. .
“Entomophagy”: The science of insects as food and nourishment
A case study under the umbrella of the Wilhelm Büchner University (WBH) and the European Institute for Industrial Relations (EIAB) has also dealt with the meaning and prospects of insect-based food in Europe. The scientific field for this is called “entomophagy”: it deals with both the consumption of insects by humans and their use as food for animals. Entomophagy is considered an important component for the implementation of sustainable forms of nutrition and the World Food Organization (WHO), among others, highlights it as a central field of research and action for the future.
Nutritional value of insect-based foods
“Insects are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and unsaturated fatty acids and are therefore a good source of nutrients,” says a statement from Wilhelm Büchner University in Darmstadt. “Compared to conventional food production, with entomophagy significantly less CO2 is released, water consumption is lower and arable land is saved.” And since insects also convert food scraps and residues into high-quality nutrients, they also contribute to a circular economy and the avoidance of food waste.
High-quality protein sources as an alternative to meat
In a study published by several Fraunhofer Institutes in the spring of 2021, insects (and mealworms in particular) were identified as a sustainable source of protein and thus as an alternative to conventionally produced meat. . This is considered problematic due to their consumption of water, fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics. Therefore, insects are among those renewable protein sources that contain a high-quality amino acid profile for human nutrition and, at the same time, good application properties, which makes them very attractive for the food industry. Consequently, other sustainable sources of protein are
- Plants (potatoes, wheatgrass, alfalfa)
- filamentous mushrooms (for example, pillar mushrooms such as oyster or shiitake mushrooms) and
Insect production: “Benefit for the environment, the economy and society”
According to the WBH, the production brings with it clear advantages for the environment, the economy and society. However, according to the researchers, production costs remain high and well-supported data on optimal insect rearing are scarce. As part of the current research project, the project team worked with the goal of developing a sensor and tracking system that optimizes and simplifies insect rearing. Thanks to the developed technology, which is based on image recognition and artificial intelligence, it should also be possible for smaller start-ups and private breeders to operate insect farming at low cost.
EU: First insects approved as food
In Europe, a first step towards insect-based nutrition has been taken: the European Union approved yellow mealworm and European locust in 2021 and the house cricket in early 2022 as novel foods.