Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grasshopper Big Macs anyone?

I was working on an article on entomophagy, the practise of eating insects, and I found the topic to be so interesting that I would like to share it with everyone.

Did you know that while it might not be appealing to some, human consumption of insects is actually quite common in some parts of the world?

Mmm yum

In Asia, Thais, Laotians and Cambodians think nothing of snacking on fried grasshoppers, crickets, locusts or water bugs, dragonflies boiled in coconut milk is a delicacy in Bali and hachinoko or boiled bee larvae is a traditional Japanese dish. Moviegoers in South America eat roasted ants instead of popcorn and it’s considered good luck if the agave worm in Mexican tequila bottles ends up in your glass. One man’s meat is certainly another man’s poison.

Due to people giving birth left, right and centre all over the world, food resources are getting more expensive and scarce. It is not surprising then that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is formally considering a policy paper to promote insects as food to the world. FAO held a conference in 2008 in Thailand on the theme "Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back," to advocate for greater economic development of insects as food sources and will discuss the subject further in their upcoming 2013 world congress.

Professor Arnold van Huis
Dutch Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in Holland and the author of the UN paper, argues that bugs have high nutritional values, use less land and need less feed thus being cheaper to farm, and would produce far less greenhouse gas than current livestock. Health risks are also lower as being so biologically different from humans, insects are less subject to contagious diseases like the mad cow scare. Talk about an all-in-one solution to food security and global warming!

In an interview with Guardian, van Huis says that "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg. It is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth."
In terms of combating global warming, the Professor’s latest research shows that farming insects such as locusts, crickets and meal worms emits 10 times less methane than livestock of cows, pigs, sheep and chicken. They also produce 300 times less nitrous oxide, also a warming gas, and much less ammonia, a pollutant produced by pig and poultry farming.

Being cold-blooded, insects don’t need to convert food energy into heat meaning that they need less food to grow. This makes farming insects a much sustainable alternative compared to farming livestock.

Farm me instead

FAO says that there are1,462 species of recorded edible insects with the most common coming from four main insect groups: beetles; ants, bees and wasps; grasshoppers and crickets; and moths and butterflies.

Some insects have as much protein as meat and fish. In dried form, insects have often twice the protein of fresh raw meat and fish, but usually not more than dried or grilled meat and fish. Some insects, especially in the larval stage, are also rich in fat and contain important vitamins and minerals.

Grasshopper BigMac
The arguments for eating insects sound very good on paper but would it take off in a world that has been softened by western cultural influences? Don’t hold your breath for ground grasshopper BigMacs with mashed crickets shaped as fries just yet but Malaysia does have a few places where creepy crawlies are part of its menu.

Kelantanese Teoh Yew Aun is also a frequent customer of a restaurant called 'Victoria Station' as it is located next to the train tracks in Tumpat serving fried bees. He says that "The first sensation you feel is the squishiness of the larvae before the crunchiness of the baby bees, much like goreng pisang batter. It’s hard to describe the taste. It’s very different because of the larvae but it tastes very good. Especially with beer.”

Entomophagy is also very common in various parts of East Malaysia where sago worms and other kinds of bugs are sold at local markets. I've tried live sago worms from Satok market in Kuching, Sarawak.

Eating the live sago worm at the RWMF 2009 Iban Longhouse 
Elizabeth Chan says that there are a few restaurants on the way to Tumpat that serves insects. They go to Bankok Restaurant, near the police station in Wakaf Baru, for fried bees. They also go to Ahan Thai at Pengkalan Kubur for fried bees & sago worms.

I guess the UN will have quite a lot of work cut out for them if they really want to implement this proposal successfully. I’m just thankful that normal food is still very much abundant in Malaysia. Now where’s the nearest Ramly burger stall?

I've also compiled a list of countries where eating bugs are as common as eating chips.


  1. we would like to use grasshopper picture for educational purpose in Fiji Islands. Please advice.


  2. Very useful and informative blog. Poultry farming is absolutely a lucrative business. I always search for this types of news and blog post related to poultry birds and poultry farming business. Really enjoyed your website writings.
    Poultry Farming Business


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