Lobsters are not pretty. Dip these unsightly creatures into warm butter, and they instantly become a different matter to most of us. Why, then, do we gag at the thought of eating insects?
One Australian researcher hopes to change that. University of Queensland Meat Science Professor Louwrens Hoffman is exploring how maggots, locusts and other “alternative” proteins might be used or added to a range of specialty foods.
So why turn to bugs when you could have, say, a tasty steak? Quite simply, Hoffman believes conventional livestock will not be able to meet the global demand for meat, so alternatives are needed to replace or at least complement traditional protein sources.
“The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources,” he said in a statement.
Studies show that Western consumers who may recoil from the idea of eating insect-based meals will try insects if they are processed and disguised – tucked inside familiar favorites as it were, Hoffman said.
“For example, one of my students has created a very tasty insect ice-cream,” he said.
Entomophagy, the scientific word for eating insects, is commonly practiced in at least 113 countries, according to a recent study. And with more than 2,000 documented edible species, insects have won the approval of the United Nations, which recommends them as a potential solution to the global food shortage. Add to that they’re environmentally friendly and can be produced with a fraction of the gas emissions that go into livestock production, while nutritional studies have shown insects to be a good source of protein by weight, though fat and vitamin content vary across species.
A portion of Hoffman’s research focuses on chickens. “Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used,” he said. He is looking at the potential use of larvae (maggots) from the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) as a protein source for chicken production.
“Chickens in the wild don’t eat feed preparations. They eat insects and larvae,” he explained. “It’s all pretty logical.”
The evidence is on his side: When broiler chicken diets include up to 15% larvae meal, chicken production as well as breast meat aroma, flavor, juiciness and tenderness are not compromised, his research finds.
Kangaroo meat and rabbit patties
Hoffman is also looking at the meat of kangaroos as a potential source of global protein since they have the ability to graze in areas unsuitable for most animals. And one of his recent studies examined adding fermented rooibos extract – a broom-like plant that grows in South Africa and is mainly used to brew tea – to rabbit meat patties to test its abilities as a “natural additive” in the manufacturing process.
Hoffman believes there needs to be “a global reappraisal of what can constitute healthy, nutritional and safe food for all.”
Consider the humble history of lobster: Until the late 19th century, lobsters had a negative reputation and so were fed to slaves, servants and prisoners in the New England towns of the United States where they were plentiful and cheap. Some towns even enacted laws to prevent prisoners from being fed them too frequently, as it would be inhumane to give them more.
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“An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food,” he said. “Would you eat a commercial sausage made from maggots?”
Extra onions, please – and pass the mustard.