Edible insects - for our plate and our planet
Would you consider adding crunchy crickets into your weeknight meals?
How about grinding some mealworms into a stock to add a bit of umami to your favourite soup, while also making a small step towards reducing your environmental impact?
The question of how the human race feeds an ever-growing population in the future is what led food scientist Ishka Bless, a joint PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham, to investigate what makes people so squeamish when the idea of eating insects is raised.
“We’re at quite a pivotal stage in terms of our food systems and how we approach them,” she says.
“There is a growing research focus on a protein transition, which would see us reduce our reliance on traditional animal- based food products, and increase our consumption of existing and new protein alternatives, such as insects.
“That’s not to say that everyone needs to stop eating meat, but perhaps explore incorporating alternatives in our everyday diet.”
“Introducing any new food into our diet can be hard, but insects present some additional challenges.”Ishka Bless, joint PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham
The first stage of the project, conducted early last year, aimed to establish a sensory lexicon for edible insects commercially available in Australia.
As an open resource, this provides standardised language for describing the flavour and texture of edible insects, as well as a useful tool for industry and research.
“We recruited people to be trained in tasting and describing edible insects such as crickets (Acheta domesticus) and mealworms (Tenebrio molitor),” Ishka says.
“Initially the participants were asked to find words to describe the aroma, flavour and texture of different samples.
“We then combined and refined those words to generate a lexicon, which was used to develop sensory profiles for different insect species and their common preservation and cooking methods.”
The next step is compositional analysis. This will provide a greater understanding of the relationship between insect diet and preparation with nutritional and aroma profiles.
This will be done in collaboration with the CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre at Werribee, Victoria.
“Aroma compounds have an impact on end flavour,” Ishka says.
“We’re currently conducting studies to understand the impact of what insects eat and how we prepare them on their taste and nutritional benefits.”
Once sensory profiles and chemical analysis are complete, the final step is identifying what is impacting adoption.
This involves understanding what insects and preparation methods consumers would prefer and how they would eat them. Providing solutions to encourage people to add insects to their everyday diet will follow.
“One of the biggest issues we have is that in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, insects have negative connotations,” Ishka says.
“That’s why people have an aversion to eating insects, even if they are farm-raised specifically for human consumption and are completely safe for us to eat.
“To overcome this, we need to try and present insects in the context of food.
“Rather than showing someone just a cricket, we are exploring ways to make people more familiar with insects as an ingredient. For example, providing
information about the flavour and texture of crickets, and how they can be used – such as in stir-fry or as a powder in soup stock so that you can’t see it.”
“One of the biggest issues we have is that in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, insects have negative connotations,”Ishka Bless, joint PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide and the University of Nottingham
The researchers will use face-reading technology to analyse the emotional response people have when presented with insects in food.
Ishka expects to have the study completed by mid-2025, but she knows changing long- held perceptions will take much longer.
“Introducing any new food into our diet can be hard, but insects present some additional challenges that we are working to overcome,” she says.