Tiziana Di Costanzo creates pizza dough from scratch by mixing flour, yeast and a pinch of salt. Tiziana also uses ground acheta domesticus (also known as cricket powder).
Di Costanzo, an edible insect entrepreneur, holds cooking classes for mealworm and cricket at her West London home. She also keeps the critters in her backyard shed with Tom Mohan, her husband.
Horizon Insects is her startup. It’s part of Europe’s emerging edible insect scene which includes dozens of bug-based businesses offering bug burgers in Germany, cricket chips in Czech Republic and bug burgers in Germany. As part of a wider sustainable food strategy, the European Union headquarters in Brussels supports research into insect-based protein.
Insects are becoming a viable food source as the world’s population grows. Experts believe they are rich in protein and can be raised sustainably more than beef or pork.
In 130 countries around the globe, there are 2 billion people who eat insects every day. According to investment bank Barclay’s and citing data by Meticulous Research, the global edible insect market is set to boom. It will grow from less that $1 billion in 2019 up to $8 billion by 2030, according to Barclay’s .
However, despite the many European startups trying to make insects more appealing, you shouldn’t expect them to appear at main restaurants or on dinner tables anytime soon. Arnold van Huis, a professor at Wageningen University and a tropical entomologist, said that there is a cultural “yuck factor” in Western countries. This will be difficult to overcome.
Van Huis stated that although it is difficult to change people’s minds, insects are safe to eat and may even be more nutritious than meat products. The only danger to their health comes from allergies because they are closely related with crustaceans such as shrimp.
Humans may eat more insects in the end, as the market for animal feed is the most promising. In 2017, the EU approved insect protein for use in fish farming. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in chicken feed in 2018. However, approvals for poultry and pork are expected later this year.
European companies are now able to sell insects directly to customers thanks to regulatory changes. Because edible insects were not considered food, the EU did not previously regulate them. This left individual countries free to set their own rules. In order to bring the rules across countries in line, the EU launched in 2018 a directive covering insects that requires approvals for each species. This opened the door for more authorizations.
According to the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (a lobby group based in Brussels), European production of insect-based foods products will increase from 500 metric tonnes currently to 260,000 by 2030. It’s still dwarfed only by the 22.8million metric tons of pork and 13.4 million tonnes of chicken the EU produces each year.
Van Huis stated that insects require only a tenth the land and emit a fraction of the greenhouse gas or ammonia gases. They also need less water than cattle and pigs.
After an application by Micronutris, a French insect farm, the first approval was given for Tenebrio Molitor larva (or dried yellow mealworm) earlier this year. EU Commission food safety regulators affirmed that mealworms were safe to eat. However, they cautioned about allergic reactions in those who are allergic to crustaceans and dust mites.
Another positive opinion was issued by regulators this month regarding grasshoppers. It was based on an application submitted by Protix, a Dutch-based insect farming company.
“Our vision is for insects to go from niches to normal,” stated Kees Aarts (CEO Protix), who forecasted an “explosion in food applications” to EU regulators.
Protix’s vertical farm in Bergen op Zoom is a state-of the-art vertical farm. Green plastic crates are stacked up in tall columns and filled with wriggling black soldier fle larvae.
High-tech equipment turns the larvae into oil and protein meal for fish feed and pet food. After receiving final approval, the company plans to market frozen, dry or powdered grasshoppers for use in breakfast cereals, baked goods and sauces.
After discovering there was no market for fresh edible mealworms, Di Costanzo’s Horizon Insects in London is now developing an insect-based recipe ingredient.
Di Costanzo claims that the cricket powder she uses to make her pizza has a “very nice, meaty and healthy taste.” It also boosts the nutritional content of the pizza with protein, macronutrients, and omega acids. Powdered mealworms are mildly sweet and can be used in burgers and cakes.
Di Costanzo said, “Definitely, I believe the future is products with insects rather than actual insects,” and also lamented the post-Brexit government red tape, which has left small U.K. edible bug entrepreneurs in limbo.
Antoine Hubert is the CEO of France’s Ynsect. He says that the best opportunity for the mealworm-based protein powder will be in the health and sports nutrition markets. Hubert stated that the company makes insect protein for fish feed. This helps farmed salmon grow faster and smaller, while also reducing the need to fishmeal (smaller fish caught in large quantities), which aids in improving the ocean’s biodiversity.
Ynsect received $224 million in funding from Footprint Coalition, which included Hollywood star Robert Downey Jr. It will finance a new vertical farm in Paris, which it claims will produce 100,000 tonnes of commercial mealworm products. The company also plans to expand in North America where it will build another farm and apply for FDA approval.
Downey Jr. promotes mealworm powder by supplying a tub to Stephen Colbert.
Colbert asked, “I could put that in a smoothie?”
Downey Jr. responded, “You’ll make all kinds of stuff from it.”