South Korean scientists claim that eating worms could help humanity “save the planet,” according to a new study published Wednesday.
But the researchers also admit that eating the slimy invertebrates suffer something of an “image problem.”
The cooked mealworms, or beetle larvae, with added sugar, creates a “meat” alternative, which researchers claim tastes authentic as an acceptable alternative nutrition source.
“Recently, eating insects has become of interest because of the increasing cost of animal protein, as well as the associated environmental issues,” In Hee Cho, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, said in announcing the findings.
By 2050, the United Nations announced that the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people and almost 11 billion by 2100.
Those population figures have driven the study to find more ways to feed more people outside of traditional farming methods, which are currently being destroyed as of writing.
Traditional meat replaced with bugs
They add that feeding humans traditional animal meat, like cows, pigs, and sheep, requires more significant amounts of food, water, and land resources.
They also argue that cows are “a substantial contributor to climate change, releasing copious amounts of methane in their burps.”
The solution? Researchers say we can save the planet from climate change by eating bugs.
The world’s population will reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. This means that despite only 4% of arable land on the surface of our planet, an additional 2 billion more humans will have to be fed.
To address this impending crisis, world experts and leaders will meet this autumn at the UN Food Summit and then the COP26. Often overlooked in these discussions is the potential role insects can play in helping meet this challenge.
Insects are a credible and efficient alternative protein source requiring fewer resources than conventional breeding. Studies suggest that for the same amount of protein produced, insects, mealworms in particular, require much less land than other sources of animal proteins. A study on crickets suggests they are twice as efficient in converting feed to meat as chicken, at least four times more efficient than pigs and 12 times more efficient than cattle.
Today, 12% of the world’s wild whole-fish catch is used for farmed fish in the form of fishmeal. An alternative to fishmeal can be the products resulting from the processing of insects such as the Tenebrio Molitor. It has been shown that with mealworm, mortality in farmed fish is reduced by 40%.
Insect protein has high-quality properties and can be used as an alternative source of protein throughout the food chain, from feed for aquaculture to ingredients for nutritional supplements for humans and pets. All animal species, regardless of their diet, eat insects in their natural diet.
“Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high amounts of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber and high-quality protein, which is like that of meat,” says Cho, whose team is at Wonkwang University (South Korea).
Despite companies attempting to alter the public’s perception of eating cooked whole mealworms as crunchy, salty snacks, people are just not buying it.
Cho even goes as far as suggesting hiding insects in the form of seasonings inside products.
Cho’s team studied mealworms throughout their entire lifecycle, looking at how the compounds present differed in each stage.
They found “volatile hydrocarbons” that evaporated and resulted in strong scents as a possible key to helping lift human consumption.
Raw larvae smelled of wet soil, shrimp, and sweet corn but changed depending on how they were cooked.
Steamed mealworms smelt of sweet corn, while deep-fried larvae were more oily.