The word “entomophagy” derives from the Greek term éntomos, or éntomon, meaning, “insect(ed),” literally meaning “cut in two,” referring to an insect’s segmented body, and phăgein, “to eat.” Combined, the two terms mean, “insect eating.”
As a point of information the word itself is a rather new term. There’s no record of its coinage in the Oxford English Dictionary and its first usage to denote a human behaviour may well be as recent as the 1950s.
There are no words equivalent to ‘entomophagy’ in the languages of the many ethnic groups that practice insect consumption, simply because these peoples never distinguished between insects and other varieties of food.
The History of Entomophagy
Insects have served as a food source for people for tens of thousands of years, all over the planet. Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many developing regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.
People from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Africa, Mexico, Columbia and New Guinea to name just a few, are regions where the inhabitants eat insects for nutritional value as well as for taste.
Some of the more popular insect and arachnids eaten around the world are: crickets, grasshoppers, ants, a variety of species of caterpillar, also referred to as worms, such as the mopani worm, silkworm and waxworm. Mealworms are actually the larva of the flour beetle and are becoming increasingly popular as an easy to breed and efficient mini-livestock.
There are an estimated 1,462 species of recorded edible insects including arachnids. And in all likelihood, there are hundreds if not thousands more that simply haven’t been sampled or perhaps not even discovered yet.
Entomophagy going forward
The future of entomophagy holds extremely significant implications surrounding the protein challenge. It is widely estimated that there will be between 9-10 billion of us humans by the year 2050. How will we as a human race produce enough protein? Edible insects and the mini-livestock market are an emerging market here in the West with the scientific research councils starting to implement government funding into the investment for the feasibility of breeding human grade edible insects. It is indeed the farming methods and structures that will determine the economic (and therefore) long term success for the mini-livestock industry.
There is a lot of current research surrounding the science behind edible insects. The health benefits, environmental impacts, and nutritional content of different species. Here is a small selection of research papers:
(A comprehensive assesment of edible insects in the West)
(An overview of nutrient content and environmental impact)
(A review of the current literature about entomophagy in the West)
Country of Origin: Mediterranean region
Common Name; Adult: Darkling beetle, Larva: Mealworm
Scientific Name: Tenebrio molitor
Facts: Mealworms are now found all over the plannet feeding on grains and flour spread by human colonization.
The mealworm beetle breeds prolifically. Within a few days after mating the female burrows into soft ground and lays about 500 eggs.
After four to 19 days the eggs hatch. Many predators target the eggs, including reptiles.
During the larval stage, the mealworm feeds on vegetation and dead insects and periodically molts A molting episode occurs between each larval stage, or instar. The larva of this species has 9 to 20 instars. After the final one it becomes a pupa. The new pupa is whitish, and it turns brown over time. After 3 to 30 days, depending on environmental conditions such as temperature, it emerges as an adult beetle.
Nutrition; Per 100g, Protein: 23.7%, Fat: 5.4%, Calcium(mg): 23.1, Energy (kcla/100g): 206
In the Kitchen: Mealworms are a great introduction to entomophagy. They are taste great even un-seasoned and slow roasted in the oven. They can be used in a huge variety of different recipes and their fast-breeding means they are great to experiment with.
Country of Origin: Wolrd wide
Common Name: House cricket
Scientific Name: Acheta domesticus
Facts: The singing of crickets in the folklore of Brazil and elsewhere, is sometimes taken to be a sign of impending rain, or of a financial windfall.
Male crickets establish their dominance over each other by aggression. They start by lashing each other with their antennae and flaring their mandibles. Unless one retreats at this stage, they resort to grappling, at the same time each emitting calls that are quite unlike those uttered in other circumstances. When one achieves dominance, it sings loudly while the loser remains silent.
In the southern part of Asia, crickets are commonly eaten as a snack, prepared by deep frying the soaked and cleaned insects. The food conversion efficiency of House crickets (Acheta domesticus) is reported to be five times higher than that for beef cattle, and if their fecundity (reproductive efficiency) is taken into account, fifteen to twenty times higher.
Nutrition; Per 100g, Protein: 20.5%, Fat: 6.8%, Calcium(mg): 40.7, Energy (kcal/100g) 121
In the Kitchen: Crickets are without a doubt one of the most commonly used of edible insects. They have a great taste whether toasted, roasted, fried or ground into a flour and used in baking. They contain
Country of Origin: Mexico
Common Name: Chapuline
Scientific Name: Sphenarium purpurascens
Facts: One of the regions of Mexico where chapulines are most widely consumed is Oaxaca, where they are sold as snacks at local sports events and are becoming revived among foodies. There is one reference to grasshoppers that are eaten in early records of the Spanish conquest, in early to mid 16th century.
Nutrition; Per 100g, Protein: 65.1%, Fat: 10.8%, Calcium(mg): 112, Energy (kcal/100g) 16.9
In The Kitchen: Chapulines take on spicing and strong flavours very well, they are traditionally stir-fried with salt, garlic, chilli and lime in Mexico.
Country of Origin: Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo/South East Asia
Common Name: Sago Worm
Scientific Name: Rhynchophorus ferrugineus
Size: 50mm length x 16mm width,
Facts: The sago worm, or sago grub, is the larvae of the Sago Palm Weevil. The sago palm tree is chopped down and the trunk is left to rot. After a few weeks, stripping off the bark and breaking open the trunk reveals dozens of palm weevils and their larvae. The larvae feeds on the starch of the sago palm.
Nutrition; Per 100g, Protein: 25.5g, Fat: 38.5, Carbohydrates: 33.2g, Energy (kcal/100g) 583
In the Kitchen: Sago grubs have been described as creamy tasting when raw, and like bacon or meat when cooked. They are often prepared with sago flour. In New Guinea, sago worms are roasted on a spit to celebrate special occasions. They are eaten either raw or roasted, and are regarded as a special high-nutrient meal among most Sarawak tribes.
Country of Origin: Africa/Arabia
Common Name: Locust
Scientific Name: Schistocerca gregaria
Facts: Locusts are the swarming phase of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers in the family Acrididae. These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming gregarious.
There is no taxonomic distinction between locust and grasshopper species; the basis for the definition is whether a species forms swarms under intermittently suitable conditions.
During quiet periods, called recessions, desert locusts are confined to a 16-million-square-kilometer belt that extends from Mauritiana through the Sahara Dessert in Northern Africa, across the Arabian Peninsular, and into northwest India.Under optimal ecological and climatic conditions, several successive generations can occur, causing super-swarms to form and invade countries on all sides of the recession area, as far north as Spain and Russia, as far south as Nigeria and Kenya, and as far east as India and southwest Asia. As many as 60 countries can be affected within an area of 32 million square kilometers, or approximately 20 percent of the Earth’s land surface.
Nutrition; Per 100g, Protein: 62g, Fat: 17g, Energy (kcal/100g) 247
In the Kitchen: People in several countries collect locusts using large nets and by other means. Locusts are usually stir-fried, roasted or boiled and eaten immediately or dried and eaten later. Locusts are rich in protein. During periods of increased locust activity, piles of dead locusts can be found in the market places of many locust affected countries.
To produce 10kg of beef takes 9kg of fodder. For 10kg of edible insects takes 1kg of fodder.
To produce 150g of beef (1 small steak) you need 3,250~ litres of water. For an equivalent amount of insect protein you need about a pint.
Livestock production already takes up a third of the planets available surface. Another third is used to grow crops to feed that livestock. Insects can be bred in labs, warehouses and contained sealed units with a fraction of the space needed.
We are not at saying not to eat beef, just choose conservation grade beef that is a by-product of responsible land management. We don’t actually need half the protein we eat on average per capita here in the West, we only need 52g a day and on average we are eating well over 100g.