There’s been a buzz about the nutritional benefits of insects for years, but 2022 is the year the creepy critters are finally tipped to hit mainstream supermarket shelves.
Eighty percent of the world’s population already consume insects as part of their daily diet.
Food scientist and entomologist Skye Blackburn found herself wondering why Australians weren’t among them after she first tried insects in Thailand in 2007.
“I sent crickets and mealworms for nutritional testing and when I received the results I was really shocked that no one is eating them as a food source here in Australia,” she says.
“They were so nutrient dense that they had everything your body could need.”
How do you “breed” insects?
Unlike livestock properties and field crops, insects do not need a lot of space.
For this reason, insect farms are common in cities. We could be near you!
Ms Blackburn now has her own insect farm “The Edible Bug Shop” in Western Sydney.
“We have these purpose-built speakers that stack from floor to roof.
“That means we’re really efficient on space.”
While a typical farmer might have 400 head of cattle, Ms Blackburn says she doesn’t know how many crickets she has but knows they number in the millions.
To ensure the future of her business, Ms. Blackburn invented technology for her farm.
“We have developed robotic technologies and artificial intelligence that help us feed, clean and monitor the crickets so that they have a really happy and healthy life,” she says.
Mrs. Blackburn was one of the first in the western world to breed insects for human consumption.
Insect farming is becoming increasingly popular with farms popping up all over Australia.
Stirling Tavener has just started an insect farm in Cairns and says they are the next big superfood.
Channy Sandhu, founder of edible insect products company Hoppa Foods, agrees.
“[Insect protein] is a clean protein, which is good for your gut. It is easily digestible and backed by sustainability and environmental factors,” says Sandhu.
“It’s becoming a no-brainer for people to try it.”
Gold Star for Sustainability
By 2050, 2 billion more people will be on our planet, which means 60-70% more food will be needed for the growing population.
So how does insect farming help us achieve this?
“Insects can be reared on food that would otherwise be lost in production systems, so we can take some of that food waste or food loss and rear insects on it,” says Professor Michelle Colgrave, lead of CSIRO’s future protein mission.
This “circular” concept of farming is what Mrs. Blackburn loves about her farm.
“We’re taking waste and creating a whole new food source,” she says.
“If you replace just one meat-based meal per week with one that uses crickets as a protein source, you actually save over 100,000 liters of drinking water per year.
“They create 1/100th the amount of greenhouse gases when you also compare them to traditional livestock.”
Why aren’t Australians eating more crickets?
Unlike in Eastern food markets where the consumption of whole insects is common, Professor Colgrave says Australian consumers don’t like to step out of their comfort zone.
“I think one of the biggest concerns we have here in Australia is the ‘ick’ or ‘yuck’ factor,” she says.
“It’s not something we’re used to eating and we often think of insects as pests.”
To overcome this, Ms Blackburn says consumers simply need to consider insects as an additional source of protein.
“So we take familiar foods that you would eat every day, like corn chips, pasta or granola, and fortify them with invisible insect protein. You wouldn’t even know they were there.”
Mr. Sandhu launched his business, Hoppa Foods, in 2018.
He says adoption is increasing through years of education about the nutritional benefits.
“We wanted to bridge that gap between insects and something that consumers were already used to in terms of the look, feel and taste of the product,” he says.
“The nutritional benefits outweigh the fear factor that most people have.
2022 the year of cricket
According to Agrifutres Australia, the Australian insect industry is expected to reach a target of $10 million per year over the next five years.
So, is 2022 the year when the most Australians will put mealworms in their mouths?
“So they will definitely be more accessible, you can buy them with your usual groceries.”
Mr Sandhu says if sales are any indication, 2022 will be his best year yet.
“Over the past three years, we’ve just seen our sales increase, which clearly shows that the market is there, and year by year it’s growing,” he says.
“We’ve probably seen about a 20% increase in our sales over last year.