Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guess what is coming to your dinner? Deep-fried Cockroaches, Scorpian Vodka and crunchy Crickets by Devinder Sharma

Some of the edible insect-filled foods

I am not sure how many of you will be able to digest this.

Aware that agricultural scientists have failed to make any breakthrough in food production, and expecting world to face food crisis in the days to come, some scientists (and industry) have begun to see insects as a possible source of protein.

Now don't be startled. What you probably don't know is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already allows insects to be an essential component of some of the processed foods. I also was caught unaware when I learnt that FDA has allowed upto 75 pieces of insects in 55 mm of hot chocolate and a maximum of 60 aphids in a portion of frozen broccoli. Yuck !

Now if you want to know how many rodent hairs and insect parts are in your food, read this list approved by the FDA. Accordingly, a typical food contains about 10 per cent of what has been approved, but some may contain as much as 40 per cent (

The FDA's action level for peanut butter is 30 or more insect fragments or one or more rodent hairs per 100 grams.


Insect filth
: Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when 6 100-gram subsamples are examined OR any 1 subsample contains 90 or more insect fragments

Rodent filth
: Average is 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams in 6 100-gram subsamples examined OR any 1 subsample contains 3 or more rodent hairs


Insects and insect eggs
: 5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml


Parasites: 3% of the fillets examined contain 1 or more parasites accompanied by pus pockets


Insect filth
: Average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples

Rodent filth
: Average of 4.5 rodent hairs or more per 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples


Insect filth
: Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams

Rodent filth:
Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams


Rodent filth: 1 or more rodent excreta pellets are found in 1 or more subsamples, and 1 or more rodent hairs are found in 2 or more other subsamples OR 2 or more rodent hairs per pound and rodent hair is found in 50% or more of the subsamples OR 20 or more gnawed grains per pound and rodent hair is found in 50% or more of the subsamples


Insect filth: Average of 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams

Rodent filth: Average of 1 or more rodent hairs per 50 grams

Can these things be avoided? To avoid all unsavory food components, it seems, would be to stop eating all together. And perhaps we're just being too squeamish. After all, as Dr. Manfred Kroger, a professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, says, "Let's face it, much of our food comes from nature, and nature is not perfect."

How disgusting, you would say. More so when we think that FDA's approval ensures food is safe. I wonder what would be the situation in a developing country like India. Will the newly formed Food Safety and Standards Authority look into this?

An article Deep-fried locust, anyone? Insect may be the answer to our looming food crisis in The Guardian (Aug 19, 2009) first opened my eyes to the new 'sunrise' industry. The article says: In south-east Asia, insects are an important part of the daily diet for millions of people. Crickets, cockroaches and other bugs and grubs are sold across the region by roadside vendors and in smart restaurants. They are harvested commercially and by home producers, providing vital income for struggling farmers. Often, insects are the only source of income for women earners, who rig polythene awnings above a fluorescent tube-light to trap flying insects after dark.

Well, I was aware of this. Often in my travels through Southeast Asia I have seen insects being sold by roadside vendors. But what I didn't know for sure was that Entomophagy (insect eating) is a growing industry with more than 1,400 insect species being gobbled in 90 countries. The FAO says there are 1462 recorded species of edible insects. I did a quick search and found some interesting details. One of the sunrise industries is called Sunrise Land Shrimp (SLS), founded in March 2005. David Gracer describes some of the new projects his company is undertaking. And I reproduce portions from one of his letters to a web portal:

The Montana Project:
I have started plans with Mr. Mark Rehder, an organic farm in Montana who reports that grasshopper harvests of 100 pounds per hour are possible. While gathering this largesse is intriguing, the prospect of cultivation makes even more sense. We are currently seeking capital and other resources that would allow us to best make use of a huge amount of grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers (and orthopterans in general) are probably the single most utilized food-insect worldwide. There is a particularly robust tradition of this practice in Pre-Columbian Mexican cuisine, and grasshoppers are enthusiastically consumed in Mexico to this day. The owner of a Mexican restaurant in Providence, RI, has told me that if I can secure a reliable supply of grasshoppers, he would put them on the menu. This is an exciting prospect, and might attract the attention of that specific restaurant industry. I am also interested in processing the grasshoppers into insect flour for high-protein baked goods. It could possibly be a model for a new paradigm in locust-related famine response.

Human consumption itself is hardly the only option. Other markets include: pet and zoo animal; fish, poultry, and possibly hog feed, and even fish bait and fertilizer.

Rhynchophorus in Peru:
The so-called "Sago grub" (the larva of Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, a species of weevil) is one of the most renowned edible insects; some people have traveled all the way to Papua New Guinea in order to sample it. Slightly less well known is the fact that this species (and several others in the genus) are both cherished as food items and despised as agricultural pests. These include R. phoenicis in Africa, and R. palmarum and R. cruentatus in the Americas.

I've been in touch with Mr. Manuel Miranda of Amazon Insects regarding "suris" the local name for R. palmurum larva. Mr. Miranda has discovered live suris sold as food in the marketplace in Lima. We have been in discussion regarding the best way to process, package, and export this food product. In the meantime he reports that he's been keeping them in his apartment, the better to observe their feeding habits and metamorphosis.

From China:
In early September 2005 I received a package mailed by an American teaching English in Yantai, China. The pre-packaged food consisted of vacuum-packed silkworm pupae. There were also jars of caterpillars (of a Sphigind species, probably Clanis bilineata); scorpions (probably Buthnus martensii); and cicada nymphs. These were purchased fresh in the marketplace, the caterpillars and scorpions were cooked and preserved in honey, while the cicadas were sent dry.

My contact reports that these products, though seasonal, are readily available in the marketplace. He urged me to learn about the process by which they could be officially brought into the U.S. as the delicacies they are considered to be in China.

The Mopane quest [and a proposed safari to Southern African countries]:
The consumption of caterpillars is common throughout much of the world, particularly in Africa. Many species are consumed there, but few approach the ubiquity of the Mopane [or Mopani] worm, the larvae of Gonimbrasia belina, a Saturnid moth, which is harvested in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and probably other countries.

I have been most interested in obtaining dried or possibly canned mopane worms; to this end I've sent several hundred emails, to no avail. I've learned that considerable amounts of mopane are exported to France and Belgium (from which country[ies] I have not been able to determine) but there is no exportation to the U.S., and this should change.

Oh dear ! Where are we heading towards !! The human civilisation seems to be fast returning to square one. We probably are going back to the jungle lifestyle once again and that too in the name of modernity.

If you want to know some nutritional and economic aspects of insects as food, you can see this research paper: Insects as human food and The Guardian article

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 8/27/2009 09:24:00 AM

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