Behind the drive to get Australians to eat more insects

Dr Bryan Lessard. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Dr Bryan Lessard. Picture: Keegan Carroll

A major effort to persuade Australians to eat more insects is being launched in Canberra.

Researchers at CSIRO are working with the federal government to discover more types of insect which can be turned into food, either by being ground down as an ingredient or eaten raw or cooked.

The group on CSIRO's Canberra campus is working with Aboriginal groups across Australia to identify insects which have high nutrition so the creatures can be farmed on an industrial scale.

The plan is spelled out in "Edible insects: A roadmap for the strategic growth of an emerging Australian industry".

"Many species have the potential to be sustainably harvested or grown in low-impact farms, to be turned into new and delicious Australian foods for us and our pets," said one of the authors, Dr Bryan Lessard.

He accepted it would be a task to persuade more people to eat insects. "It's a challenge. If you are not brave enough to eat a whole cricket, you can use cricket flour," he said.

Cricket flour could be put in a host of foods like muffins or banana bread. "You treat it like a new ingredient," Dr Lessard said.

"Insect farms are hoping that their products will become more a part of the diet."

There is a big global market for Australia to tap. "The worldwide edible insect market is expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2023. Europe and the United States of America lead the western world market, with more than 400 edible insect-related businesses in operation," researcher Dr Ponce Reyes said.

"Insects have high-value nutritional profiles and are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, folic acid and vitamins B12, C and E.

"They are also complementary to our existing diets because they are a healthy, environmentally friendly, and a rich source of alternative proteins."

One of the aspects of the drive is to engage the expertise of Aboriginal Australians but to make sure they reap the financial benefit from their intellectual copyright.

"They have been eating insects for tens of thousands of years," Dr Lessard said. He cites a successful existing venture where green tree ants are harvested and sold to a gin-making company to flavour the drink.

The Something Wild Australia company, owned by the Motlop family, harvests a range of Indigenous foods and supplies them to restaurants and consumers around Australia.

"What's great is that green tree ants taste like zesty lime and they are also high in Vitamin C," Dr Lessard said.

More than 2100 insect species are already eaten in 130 countries, including 60 native insect species traditionally consumed by Aboriginal people in Australia. Australian species include witjuti (also known as witchetty) grubs, bogong moths, honey pot ants as well as green tree ants.

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This story Insects appeal: it's time to stick a bug in your mug first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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