Imagine a day when you could go to a restaurant and cricket tacos and mealworm frittatas were among your entrée choices on the menu. Or, imagine being able to order a dessert containing the cannabis plant instead of an alcoholic beverage to help you relax and feel good after a long day. Or, what would you think about having the option to custom order a meal that didn’t contain any ingredients you were allergic to using a 3D printer?
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These days may actually not be that far away. In fact, in some parts of the world, a few of these food options already exist. Using insects and cannabis as food ingredients, as well as printing out foods three dimensionally, are among some of today’s biggest emerging food trends. Here’s a closer look at each of these trends, why they’re gaining popularity, as well as safety and manufacturing concerns—and possible solutions to these worries.
Many cultures around the world have been eating insects for generations. In fact, 2,100 species have been recognized as edible and forming some part of a diet in a particular culture, says Robert Nathan Allen, founder of Little Herds, an educational non-profit organization in Austin, Texas, and co-founder of North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture, which educates the public and works to increase the capacity of insect industries. But until recently, there were few examples in western or Euro-centric foods that contained purposeful insect ingredients.
But now there’s a rising interest in insect ingredients due to their numerous health and wellness benefits and environmentally beneficial resource efficiency in the western hemisphere. “They are viewed as an alternative protein that can address nutrient deficiencies and food insecurities in a variety of ways,” Allen says.
Among the most common insects used in North American and western Europe foods are crickets, mealworms, grasshoppers, and silkworms. In other cultures, termites, ants, and beetle larvae are also common choices.
In the last five years, a new wave of insect product-maker startups have begun using ingredients such as cricket powder (dried and ground crickets that were farmed specifically for food purposes) or textured insect protein (think insect-based tofu) to make insect-based chips, crackers, protein shakes, pastas, energy bars, cookies, granolas, crisps, breads, hotdogs, meatballs, and burger patties.
Bug Benefits Abound
Insects are very nutritious and are an excellent source of protein but have a much smaller environmental footprint than other sources of animal protein, such as pork or beef, says Mareike Janiak, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the anthropology department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J. The exact nutritional value of insects varies widely across different species and different life stages of the same insect.
Allen says consuming insects is a more humane and ethical way to obtain animal proteins than traditional livestock. Most insects contain more protein than beef, more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, plus vitamins like B12, minerals like zinc, copper, and niacin, great amino acids, poly and mono unsaturated fats, and fiber, Allen says. They have a long shelf life and research is pending on whether they have prebiotic properties. Insects don’t require hormones, antibiotics, or steroids either.
Raising insects requires much smaller areas of land, less water, and less food than raising other livestock, and they emit much less methane than cattle. “With the world’s growing population and the dangers of global warming, we will need to consider alternative protein sources—edible insects may be a good option,” Janiak says.
Insects can be raised organically and don’t need to be genetically modified, and insect ingredients are gluten-free and work well for paleo and ketogenic diets. Some insects are even considered Halal and Kosher, Allen adds.
More People Jumping on Bug Bandwagon
While many people once viewed eating insects as disgusting, people in North American and western Europe are slowly changing their opinions, Janiak says.