Insects put to the taste test

edible insects

University of Adelaide researchers are creating a new tool that will help people understand what it’s like to eat one of the most sustainable and protein-rich food sources on the planet: edible insects.

While the practice of eating insects has been around since prehistoric times it’s only in more recent years, as we search for sustainable food sources, that edible insects have hopped into the spotlight.

Edible insect species are rich in protein and have high micronutrient profiles. Insect farming is also vastly more efficient than other forms of protein production, requiring significantly less water and space, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But even though millions of people worldwide embrace insects as part of their diet, the practice of ‘entomophagy’ has yet to catch on with western cultures.

University of Adelaide PhD student from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, Ishka Bless, believes that one of the main barriers keeping Australian consumers from enjoying insects is simply a lack of experience with the food.

“People feel hesitant about trying new foods when they don’t know what flavours and textures to expect.”

“There are also a lot of overwhelmingly negative connotations associated with insects, for example: ‘pests’ and ‘creepy crawlies’.”

To solve this problem, Ms Bless has recruited taste testers who will assist in creating a new resource for consumers and industry groups that will help them understand the sensory experience behind eating bugs. 

The taste testers will sample a variety of edible insects, including mealworms, house crickets, tyrant ants and green ants, prepared using different cooking techniques.

Their descriptions of the food will then be used to create a vocabulary and sensory wheel – a common tool in food science that helps describe the sensations associated with a particular product.

What’s next?

Ms Bless hopes that the sensory wheel will help people understand the diverse and interesting sensory profiles of insects, and get more comfortable with the idea of eating them. The vocabulary and sensory wheel may also support the emerging edible insect industry, with applications in new product development, marketing and consumer research.

“If we can help to get people more comfortable with insects as a food and ingredient by breaking down some of the barriers, such as better describing the experience of entomophagy, we may be able to help people incorporate a few bugs into their everyday diets.”

Importantly, as demand for insect ingredients increases, they will become cheaper and more accessible for the regular consumer. This will make it easier for people to enjoy products with insect ingredients and eat sustainable foods. Two bugs, one stone.

Tagged in Agriculture, food and wine, featured