Insects are commonly consumed in areas of Asia and Africa, but they are becoming more popular. Western food suppliers are putting additional pressure on the world food supply as the world’s population expands. Insects are high in protein and grow far more sustainably than beef or pork, according to experts.
Di Costanzo is an edible insect entrepreneur who provides cricket and mealworm cooking workshops at her West London home, where she and her husband, Tom Mohan, also raise the insects in a backyard shed.
Horizon Insects, founded by Di Costanzo, is part of Europe’s nascent edible insect industry, which includes hundreds of bug-based enterprises such as cricket chips in the Czech Republic, bug burgers in Germany, and beetle beer in Belgium. As part of a broader sustainable food plan, the European Union’s (EU) headquarters in Brussels supports research into insect-based proteins.
Despite all European startups working to make insects more appealing, they don’t appear easily in mainstream restaurants. Arnold van Huis, a professor of tropical entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, states because there’s a significant cultural “yuck” factor in Western countries, that will be difficult to modify.
“It’s very difficult to turn people’s minds around but insects are absolutely safe to eat, maybe even more nutritious than meat products,” because “insects are closely related to crustaceans like shrimp, the only risk is allergies,” according to van Huis.
Insects utilize a tenth of the area, emit a fraction of the greenhouse gas or ammonia, and use far less water than cattle or pigs, van Huis said.
Because edible insects are not considered food, the EU previously did not regulate them, leaving individual countries to set their own standards. To harmonize standards across countries, the EU issued a directive in 2018 that covers insects but requires particular species permits, clearing the way for a wave of authorizations.
“Our vision is that insects will go from niche to normal,” said Protix CEO Kees Aarts, who also predicted an “explosion of food applications” to EU regulators.
After learning that there wasn’t much of a local market for the fresh edible mealworms they were selling, Di Costanzo’s Horizon Insects in London is developing an insect-based cooking ingredient.
Di Costanzo claims that the cricket powder she puts in her pizza gives it “a very nice, meaty, healthy taste” while also adding protein, macronutrients, and omega acids to the nutrient content. Meanwhile, mealworm burgers are “tasty and very easy to make,” and powdered mealworms have a moderate flavor that allows them to be used in cakes, bread, and pasta.
“Definitely, I think the future is products made with insects rather than the actual insect,” stated Di Costanzo, who also blasted post-Brexit government red tape, which is putting small edible insect entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom in limbo.
The most lucrative possibility for Ynsect’s mealworm-based protein powder, according to Antoine Hubert, CEO of France’s Ynsect, will be in the sports and health nutrition markets.
Downey Jr., one of the sponsors of Ynsect’s most recent round of funding, has been pushing the virtues of mealworm powder, even giving Stephen Colbert a tub of it.
“I could put this in a smoothie or something?” Colbert asked.
“You’ll be making all kinds of stuff out of it,” Downey Jr. answered.
According to the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, a Brussels-based lobby group, European output of insect-based food products is expected to increase from 500 metric tons now to 260,000 metric tons by 2030. Even so, it pales in comparison to the EU’s annual production of 22.8 million metric tons of pork and 13.4 million tons of chicken.