I-ATE Food Term of the Week: Mealworms

118

Beginning of May 2021, the European Commission approved the consumption of dried mealworms in the European Union. The yellow larvae has now become the first insect approved as food in the EU.

Tenebrio Molitor beetle larvae, the wormy form of the black beetle, has been officially marked as a “novel food” by the Commission. What does this mean for us consumers? Well, the larvae could very soon crawl its way to our supermarket snack shelves, or appear in existing product ingredients.

The future of European snacks?

Mealworms and other insects are already being consumed as snacks or meals in certain parts of the world like South East Asia or Mexico. Larvae, crickets, grasshoppers and other cockroaches are usually deep-fried and seasoned to be consumed as a chips-like snack. They can also be processed to be a fully transformed ingredient like burger patties, energy bars, or milk alternatives. Yes, you read it right! A South-African start-up even created the first ice cream to be made exclusively of black soldier fly, a small fly blended to a milky substance and sold as ice cream.

So far in Europe, only the consumption and sales of mealworms has been approved after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has declared it safe for production and consumption. 

The Commission approves the consumption of mealworms as a whole snack, or transformed into a powdered ingredient, in the preparation of pastas or biscuits for example.

Insects, and mealworms in particular, have been proven to be a greener alternative to meat. Their production necessitates far less resources like land or water; the production of 1 kg of beef meat requires 1000 litres of water, against 1 litre of water for 1kg of insects. Rich in protein, minerals, healthy fats or vitamins, insects could very much be the “superfood” of the future. Per 100g, dragonflies provide for example twice as much protein than chicken!

But we, European consumers, seem a little bit reluctant to accept the idea of munching on larvae. According to a survey led by the European Consumer Organization, only 10% of Europeans are eager to start consuming insects instead of meat-based products. Are you of one them?

A promising industry 

A third of the world already eats insects on a daily basis, and according to food experts, it is just a matter of time before the rest of the world turns to their regular consumption. By 2050, the world production of animal meat is expected to increase by 60%, with alarming impact on our carbon footprint. Therefore, insects appear to be the miracle solution to cover our protein needs, but still face the challenge of being able to  satisfy our meat cravings. 

“At the end of the day, you might have the healthiest, most nutritional, most sustainable product but unless it tastes nice and people are willing to accept it, it may be a lot more difficult to get that across.”  – Giovanni Sagari, food consumer researcher

Optimistic food production companies have nonetheless already started investing in the neglected superfood. So far, edible insects are still a rather small niche, but the market is expected to reach 4.6 billion USD by 2027. Canada’s largest supermarket chain, Loblaw’s, is already selling roasted crickets and cricket powder in bags of 200g, and other retail giants, such as Walmart, are selling bags of roasted bugs in their snack sections.

So, how long before insects become a regular part of our grocery lists? Time will tell us, but overcoming the yuck factor seems to be the biggest challenge!

References:

CNN. 2019. This luxury ice cream is made from insects. [ONLINE] Available at https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/25/business/gourmet-grubb-insect-ice-cream-intl/index.html [Accessed 19 May 2021].

Daily Mail. 2017. How insects have twice the amount of protein. [ONLINE] Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-4850314/How-insects-TWICE-protein.html [Accessed 19 May 2021].

MIT Technology Review. 2021. We’re on track to set a new record for global meat consumption. [ONLINE] Available at https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/04/26/1023636/sustainable-meat-livestock-production-climate-change/ [Accessed 19 May 2021].

BBC. 2021. A neglected protein-rich ‘superfood’. [ONLINE] Available at https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210420-the-protein-rich-superfood-most-europeans-wont-eat [Accessed 19 May 2021].

European Commission. 2021. Approval of first insect as Novel Food. [ONLINE] Available at https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food/authorisations/approval-first-insect-novel-food_en [Accessed 19 May 2021].

Toronto Star. 2018. Loblaw adds cricket powder to President’s Choice line. [ONLINE] Available at https://www.thestar.com/business/2018/03/06/loblaw-adds-cricket-powder-to-presidents-choice-line.html [Accessed 19 May 2021].

Bloomberg. 2021. Mealworm on the menu: EU approves first insect protein. ONLINE] Available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-04/worm-cuisine-set-to-hit-europe-s-dinner-tables-as-eu-gives-nod [Accessed 19 May 2021].


Written by Nelson Dumas, Terminology student at the University of Luxembourg and Communication Trainee at the European Parliament. Nelson holds a Bachelor degree in Economics and Business Management and pursues a Master degree in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg.