REVIEW

Edible Insects as a Protein Source: A Review of Public Perception, Processing Technology, and Research Trends

Tae-Kyung Kim1,https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6349-4314, Hae In Yong1,https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0970-4496, Young-Boong Kim1https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8441-198X, Hyun-Wook Kim2https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4397-9664, Yun-Sang Choi1,*https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8060-6237
Author Information & Copyright
1Research Group of Food Processing, Korea Food Research Institute, Wanju 55365, Korea
2Department of Animal Science & Biotechnology, Gyeongnam National University of Science and Technology, Jinju 52725, Korea

These authors contributed equally to this work.

*Corresponding author : Yun-Sang Choi, Research Group of Food Processing, Korea Food Research Institute, Wanju 55365, Korea Tel: +82-63-219-9387 Fax: +82-63-219-9076 E-mail: kcys0517@kfri.re.kr

© Korean Society for Food Science of Animal Resources. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: May 17, 2019 ; Revised: Jul 08, 2019 ; Accepted: Jul 10, 2019

Published Online: Aug 31, 2019

Abstract

This review summarizes the current trends related to insect as food resources among consumers, industry, and academia. In Western societies, edible insects have a greater potential as animal feed than as human food because of cultural biases associated with harmful insects, although the abundant characteristics of edible insects should benefit human health. Nevertheless, many countries in Asia, Oceania, Africa, and Latin America utilize insects as a major protein source. Using insects can potentially solve problems related to the conventional food-supply chain, including global water, land, and energy deficits. Academic, industry, and government-led efforts have attempted to reduce negative perceptions of insects through developing palatable processing methods, as well as providing descriptions of health benefits and explaining the necessity of reducing reliance on other food sources. Our overview reveals that entomophagy is experiencing a steady increase worldwide, despite its unfamiliarity to the consumers influenced by Western eating habits.

Keywords: edible insects; animal feed; food resources; entomophagy

Introduction

Several projections have suggested that world population will reach over 9 billion by 2050 (Grafton et al., 2015; Park and Yun, 2018). This increase in population requires approximately double the current food production (Belluco et al., 2013). Alarmingly, global warming is gradually decreasing the areas used for food production worldwide (Dobermann et al., 2017). The climate change and the environmental destruction from industrial development also negatively affect the food productivity (van Huis and Oonincx, 2017). In light of worsening resource shortage, several foods have been proposed as alternatives, with insects receiving the most attention (Patel et al., 2019). Insects are institutionally accepted as a food in many regions and historically consumed (Murefu et al., 2019), providing sufficient nutritional value for humans (Zielinska et al., 2018). However, the rapid increase in food production through technological advancement has largely eliminated insects from our diets (Gao et al., 2018).

The reappearance of insects as a viable food group can be attributed to their nutritional, environmental, and economic value (Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017). The increased scrutiny of edible insects is part of a multifaceted strategies for achieving global food security (van Huis, 2015). In general, insects have high protein content and excellent production efficiency compared with other conventional food groups (Kohler et al., 2019; Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017; Zielinska et al., 2015). This characteristic is particularly valuable given that future protein consumption is expected to increase, but food supply declines (Gao et al., 2018; Kohler et al., 2019; Patel et al., 2019). Currently, Europe and the United States have the fastest growing edible-insect industry, where a trend is associated with high meat intake (Mlcek et al., 2014). Moreover, it is recognized that a steady increase in the global market size of the insect industry, with applications reaching beyond food into material and drug development (van Thielen et al., 2019).

Despite the numerous practical advantages, many barriers remain in insect-food development because the concept of insect foods is not similar with conventional Western eating habit (Murefu et al., 2019). Currently, insect foods are in a transitional stage, and a promising new technique involves developing new food products via combining protein-processing technology with insects (Kohler et al., 2019; Patel et al., 2019). This review aims to provide a much needed overview of current research on insect-food development. As we will demonstrate, the insect industry is on track to become a successful protein resource that will lead the global market.

Industrial Applications of Insects as Food and Feed Sources

Food industry

For hundreds of years, native cultures in Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe include the consumption of various species of insects (Dobermann et al., 2017; Raheem et al., 2018). Approximately 2,000 insect species are consumed in at least 113 countries (Yen, 2009). A survey of markets in Bangkok, Thailand, for instance, identified 164 insect species being sold for food (Yhoung-aree, 2010). The most commonly eaten insects are beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts (Raheem et al., 2018). In Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Nigeria, edible insects are commonly available in school cafeterias and open markets, forming a profitable business (Mutungi et al., 2019). Indeed, up to 50% of dietary protein is derived from insects, and they actually have higher market value than other protein sources (Dobermann et al., 2017). Some insects are appreciated for their organoleptic characteristics and consumed in high-class restaurants (DeFoliart, 1999). For example, escamoles (ant eggs) are considered a delicate gourmet dish in Mexico, Laos, Cambodia, and Europe (Ramos‐Elorduy, 1997).

An interest in edible insects has increased rapidly because the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has begun promoting insects as viable dietary options for humans (van Huis et al., 2013). Globally, the edible-insect market is expected to exceed USD 522 million by 2023 (Han et al., 2017). Since 2012, the Korean edible-insect market (especially for human consumption) has made major progress with government support and successful research endeavors.

However, lingering negative perceptions of insects hamper global market expansion and limit insects as a mainstream dining option, which may be related to the fact that people are skeptical to novel foods due to general neophobic tendencies (Dobermann et al., 2017). Thus, inexperienced consumers perceive insects as a source of fear or disgust, have strong rejection of insects as a normal food in their diet, and totally neglect their high nutritive value (van Huis, 2016). Overcoming such intrinsic attitudes are one of the main challenges facing the edible-insect industry (Yen, 2009). Fortunately, the positive social perception of novel foods does lead to its consumption (Yen, 2010), as consumer attitudes are driven multiple factors (e.g., food-choice motives) beyond neophobia (van Thielen et al., 2019). Thus, initiatives promoting edible insects should emphasize their practical value, which can create consumer demand (Sun-Waterhouse et al., 2016). Governments and NGOs can provide the information about benefits related to nutrition and environmental sustainability (Ruby et al., 2015). Tasting events or educational workshops can also provide opportunities to learn about edible insects (Han et al., 2017). Another method for improving consumer perception is the creation of cookbooks with insect recipes (Raheem et al., 2018). Overall, the repeated positive exposure to edible insects raises awareness and could encourage consumption (van Thielen et al., 2019).

Moreover, an increase in accessibility to edible insects is to develop insect-based ingredients instead of final food products showing their original appearance (Mishyna et al., 2019; Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017; Purschke et al., 2018; Yi et al., 2016). Incorporating edible insects in already-familiar foods may be more acceptable for an insect-phobic culture than providing insects directly as a food option, and using insects as food ingredients is beneficial for the formation of sustainable business models (Han et al., 2017).

A major hurdle in the edible insect industry is the lack of systematic work to guarantee safety and shelf-life (van Huis, 2016). Insect farming also requires standardization and quality control, a goal that requires government legislation and regulations (Han et al., 2017).

Feed industry

High nutritional value, minimal space requirements, and low environmental impact combine to make insects an appealing option for animal feed. Another major advantage is that insects are already used for the natural part of many animal diets (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013b; Veldkamp and Bosch, 2015). Insect-based animal feeds are particularly attractive when considering the cost of standard feeds, currently accounting for 70% of livestock-production expenses (van Huis et al., 2013).

The most promising, well-studied candidates for industrial feed production are black soldier flies, larvae, yellow mealworms, silkworms, grasshoppers, and termites (Dobermann et al., 2017). Such previous research has revealed that insect meal can partially replace commercial meal in broiler feed, particularly protein sources. For example, housefly-larvae meal can replace 4% of the fish meal in broiler diets without negative effects on carcass weight and feed efficiency (Awoniyi et al., 2003). Another report indicated that broiler diets containing 31%, 26%, and 20% soybean meal can be successfully modified to contain 0%, 5%, and 10% dried yellow mealworm, respectively (Ramos-Elorduy et al., 2002). Furthermore, growth performance and carcass quality could be improved when broiler chicks were fed a diet containing 10%–15% housefly larvae (Hwangbo et al., 2009). As compared with commercial corn/soy-based diets, a housefly-larvae-based diet significantly increased the carcass weight, total feed intake, and average daily gain of broiler chickens (Pretorius, 2011). However, a more recent study found that replacing soybean oil with black-soldier-fly-larvae meal has no impacts on the growth performance of broilers (Schiavone et al., 2017). In addition to the nutritional value, insect-based feed could have a further advantage in improving the taste of final meat products. In the Philippines, for example, consumers prefer the taste of pasture-grown chickens fed with grasshoppers, resulting in higher price compared with chickens on commercial feed (Litton, 1993).

Insect-based feeds have also been tested in egg-producing poultry. The replacing fish meal with dried mealworm increased egg production by 2.4% (Wang et al., 1996). Fully replacing the protein content with larvae meal in a laying-hen diet did not negative affect feed intake, feed conversion efficiency, egg production hen health, and immune status (Marono et al., 2017).

Smallholder farms in Asia and Africa commonly use insects as fish feed (Dobermann et al., 2017). Housefly-larvae meal can replace up to 75% of fishmeal in Nile tilapia diets without any adverse effects (Wang et al., 2017). Replacing fish meal with black-soldier-fly meal in diets does not alter the odor, flavor, or texture of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) (Lock et al., 2016). Likewise, mealworms can successfully replace 40%–80% of the standard catfish (Ameiurus melas Raf.) diet without adverse effects on growth performance (Roncarati et al., 2015). Another viable alternative to fish meal is silkworm pupa, which was tested successfully for African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) fingerling diets (Kurbanov et al., 2015). In carp (Cyprinus carpio), a silkworm-meal diet was superior to a leaf-meal diet for improving nutrient digestibility, nutrient retention, and feed conversion efficiency (Swamy and Devaraj, 1994).

In summary, existing studies clearly demonstrate that insects are a promising protein source for animal feeds and has the potential to meet increasing global demand (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013b). Before the mass-production of such insect-based feeds, however, governments and companies should aim to address health and safety concerns related to edible insects, such as the presence of anti-nutrient properties (Dobermann et al., 2017).

Value of Edible Insects as Food Resources

Nutritional value of edible insects

Insect nutritional value varies with diet, developmental stage, sex, species, growth environment, and measurement methods (van Huis and Oonincx, 2017). Nevertheless, researchers generally agree that insects are extremely rich in protein, fat, and vitamins (Rumpold and Schluter, 2013a). Nutrient compositions of edible insects as published in literatures (based on dry matter) is summarized in Table 1. Nitrogen is a critical nutrient, and proteins directly involved in N supply comprise 16.5% of an adult human body (Melo et al., 2011). On average, the protein content of edible insects ranges 35%–60% dry weight or 10%–25% fresh weight (Melo et al., 2011; Schluter et al., 2017), which are higher than plant protein sources, including cereal, soybeans, and lentils (Bukkens, 1997). At the upper range, insects provide more protein than even meat and chicken eggs (Mlcek et al., 2014). Edible insects in Orthoptera (crickets, grasshoppers, locusts) are particularly protein-rich (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013a). However, insect protein digestibility is highly variable due to the presence of a hard exoskeleton (van Huis, 2016). Exoskeletons with high proportion of chitin component are especially difficult to digest (Schluter et al., 2017). Indeed, we currently do not know whether humans are capable of digesting chitin (Muzzarelli et al., 2012). Of course, the removal of exoskeleton through a part of processing is a viable option (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013b). Some studies have found that insect protein digestibility is 77%–98% without after the exoskeleton (Defoliart, 1992).

Table 1. Nutrition composition of edible insects (based on dry matter)
Type of insects Scientific name Protein content (%) Fat content (%) Carbohydrates content (%) Reference
Larvae Allomyrina dichotoma 54.18 20.24 -1) Ghosh et al. (2017)
Anaphe infracta 20.00 15.20 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Anaphe recticulata 23.00 10.20 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Anaphe venata 25.70 23.21 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Gonimbrasia belina 56.95 10.00 7.80 Siulapwa et al. (2012)
Gynanisa maja 55.92 12.10 10.70 Siulapwa et al. (2012)
Protaetia brevitarsis 44.23 15.36 - Ghosh et al. (2017)
Rhynchophorus phoenicis 22.06 66.61 5.53 Ekpo and Onigbinde (2005)
Tenebrio molitor 46.44 32.70 - Ravzanaadii et al. (2012)
Beetle Heteroligus meles 38.10 32.01 20.10 Jonathan (2012)
Oryctes boas 26.00 1.50 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Rhynchophorus phoenicis 50.01 21.12 20.23 Jonathan (2012)
Rhynchophorus phoenicis 28.42 31.40 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Grasshopper Ruspolia differens 44.59 49.00 8.40 Siulapwa et al. (2012)
Zonocerus variegatus 26.80 3.80 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Cricket Brachytrypes spp. 6.25 2.34 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Gryllus bimaculatus 58.32 11.88 - Ghosh et al. (2017)
Teleogryllus emma 55.65 25.14 - Ghosh et al. (2017)
Termites Macrotermes bellicosus 20.10 28.20 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Macrotermes falciger 43.26 43.00 32.80 Siulapwa et al. (2012)
Macrotermes notalensis 22.10 22.50 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Bee Apis mellifera 21.00 12.30 - Banjo et al. (2006)
Dragonfly Aeschna multicolor 54.24 16.72 - Ramos-Elorduy et al. (1998)
Anax sp. 26.22 22.93 - Ramos-Elorduy et al. (1998)

1) Do not observed in the reference.

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The second largest component of insect nutrient composition is fat (Mlcek et al., 2014). Various factors such as species, sex, reproduction stage, season, diet, and habitat all combine to influence insect fat content (Schluter et al., 2017). Orthoptera, Lepidoptera (caterpillars), cockroaches (blattodea), Isoptera (termites), Hemiptera, and Coleoptera (beetles, grubs) have the averaged fat content of 13.41%, 27.66%, 29.90%, 32.74%, 30.26%, and 33.40%, respectively (Rumpold and Schluter, 2013a). Larvae and pupae have more fat than adult insect (Mlcek et al., 2014). In addition, females are fatty than males (de Castro et al., 2018; Mlcek et al., 2014). The fatty acid profiles of insects are also dependent on species and diet (Schluter et al., 2017), although insects generally have more unsaturated fatty acids (UFA) compared to saturated fatty acids (SFA) (de Castro et al., 2018). On average, Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) and 41.97% for Isoptera (termites) have 30.83% and 41.97% SFA, respectively (Rumpold and Schluter, 2013a). A notable exception occurs in Imbrasia ertli catepillars, which possess SFA comprising 38% arachidic acid (C20:0) (Bukkens, 1997; Rumpold and Schluter, 2013a).

Carbohydrates in insects mainly exist in two forms of chitin and glycogen. The former is a polymer of N-acetyl-D-glucosamine that is the primary component of exoskeleton (Bukkens, 1997; van Huis et al., 2013), while the latter is an energy source stored in cells and muscle tissues (Schluter et al., 2017). The averaged carbohydrate content of edible insects ranges from 6.71% (stink bug) to 15.98% (cicada) (Mlcek et al., 2014).

Some insects (e.g., grasshoppers, crickets, termites, and mealworms) are rich in iron, zinc, calcium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese. Invertebrates without a mineralized skeleton have very little calcium content (de Castro et al., 2018; Mlcek et al., 2014). Most edible insects have similar iron content to beef (Bukkens, 1997), but we currently know little about mineral bioavailability of insects (de Castro et al., 2018). A rare study found that consuming insects can provide the high proportions of daily mineral recommendations for humans, particularly in terms of iron (Latunde-Dada et al., 2016). The investigations of vitamin content are also insufficient, but available data indicate that edible insects contain carotene, vitamin B1, B2, B6, C, D, E, and K (Mlcek et al., 2014). In particular, Orthoptera and Coleoptera are rich in folic acid (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013a).

Food processing of edible insects

As traditional animal-protein intake methods are called into question, insects are increasingly viewed as the food of the future (Sogari, 2015). In the Netherlands, the efforts to promote entomophagy include studies aimed at customizing insects for Western tastes, resulting in the sale of some insects (e.g., locusts, mealworms) at retail markets (Schösler et al., 2012). Insects have been processed into powder or meal to minimize visual associations and increase palatability (Bubler et al., 2016). In addition, researchers have been investigating the functional properties of insect proteins, including gelling capacity, foam capacity, emulsion capacity, and solubility in various buffers or solvents. In Table 2, previous studies regarding the food processing properties (functional properties) of edible insects are presented. Appropriate extraction methods (e.g., defatting, pH change, zymolysis, or sonication) are also being investigated (Mishyna et al., 2019; Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017; Purschke et al., 2018; Yi et al., 2016). These studies will help the use of edible insects as a food ingredient for producing traditional foods.

Table 2. Previous studies regarding the food processing properties of edible insects
Type of insects Scientific name Observation Reference
Larvae Cirina forda • Protein solubility Omotoso (2006)
• Oil absorption capacity
• Foaming stability
Larvae Gryllodes sigillatus • Protein solubility Zielinska et al. (2018)
Grasshopper Schistocerca gregaria • Water holding capacity
Cricket Tenebrio molitor • Oil holding capacity
• Foaming capacity
• Emulsion capacity
Larvae Cirina forda • Protein solubility Osasona and Olaofe (2010)
• Oil absorption capacity
• Water absorption capacity
• Foaming capacity
• Emulsion capacity
Larvae Oryctes owariensis • Oil absorption capacity Assielou et al. (2015)
Larvae Bombyxmori L. • Water absorption capacity Omotoso (2015)
• Foaming capacity
• Foaming stability
• Emulsion capacity
• Emulsion stability
Larvae Tenebrio molitor • Water binding capacity Bubler et al. (2016)
Larvae Hermetia illucens • Fat binding capacity
• Protein solubility
Larvae Tenebrio molitor • Foaming capacity Yi et al. (2013)
Larvae Zophobas morio • Foaming stability
Larvae Alphitobius diaperinus • Gel formation
Cricket Acheta domesticus
Cockroach Blaptica dubia
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Medicinal applications

Cultures that consume insects also tend to associate them with various health benefits beyond nutrition (Raheem et al., 2018). For example, caterpillar fungus supposedly has immunostimulatory and anti-cancer properties (Chen et al., 2009). In traditional Chinese medicine, male Antheraea pernyi is considered aphrodisiac (Chen et al., 2009), while ant-alcohol is also thought to enhance immunity and libido (Liu et al., 2004). Some evidence exists to suggest that termites (Macrotermes annandalei) may have immunostimulatory effects (Chen et al., 2009). Another insect historically considered to have beneficial health effects is the silkworm (Bombyx mori L.) (Kim et al., 2008). Recent analyses have identified a blood-glucose-lowering agent, resulting in the development of silkworm powder as a diabetic medicine in Korea, and such health benefit was also reported by the Chinese Ministry of Health and State Food and Drug Administration (Belluco et al., 2013; Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017).

The traditional claims of medicinal properties have resulted in multiple studies aiming to empirically determine the properties of edible insects. The several analyses of insect enzymatic hydrolysates have identified antioxidant and antidiabetic properties, as well as the ability to inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) (de Castro et al., 2018; Nongonierma and FitzGerald, 2017). The hydrolysates of S. littoralis larvae exhibit 2,2′azino-bis(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulphonic acid) and 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl scavenging activity that indicates a powerful antioxidant activity (Vercruysse et al., 2009).

In summary, the discovery of physiologically important substances contained in edible insects makes medicinal use a potentially important application (Han et al., 2017). However, given the current lack of scientific data, more researches are warranted to confirm the benefits of consuming insects as health foods or medicine.

Food safety of edible insects

Despite the obvious nutritional value of edible insect, the food safety issues of edible insects such as microorganism, allergic reaction, and toxicity may catch up with latent consumer (Rumpold and Schlüter, 2013a). Harmful factors affect food safety of edible insect is summarized in Table 3. In the perspective on microbial safety, insect gut is considered as a main habitat, and body surface and mouthparts are also included. Microbial colonization is reached vertically through ovary, egg capsule, spawning, and horizontally through feed and environment (Dematheis et al., 2012; Yun et al., 2014). Therefore, the use of insect as food sources may have a potential hazard as a pathogenic vector. In addition, the microbiota ratio in insect gut can be an important part being used as food sources, because the total amount of biomass from gut microbiota could account for 1%–10% of the body weight of insect (Douglas, 2015). In addition, it is practically difficult to remove gut part from edible insects (Douglas, 2015). Although insect-specific pathogenic microorganisms had no risk to human health, they can colonize only cells or tissues of insect. However, the contamination of human pathogenic microorganisms can occur, and this contamination may be regulated by controlled breeding condition with special care (Schluter et al., 2017). In allergic reactions, some edible insects had allergic cross-reactive proteins with arachnids and crustaceans, which are known as arthropods (Ribeiro et al., 2018). Furthermore, carmine used for food dye is obtained from the bodies of female cochineal insects and this dye could induce allergic reaction to some patients (Belluco et al., 2013). Considering that only a few studies regarding the allergic reaction of edible insects have been carried out, we need to pay attention to the unknown potential allergens contained in edible insects. Further study and investigation determining the hazard substances including allergens and toxic substances and their impacts on pathological symptom in human body should be performed for guaranteeing the safe use of edible insects as feed and food resources.

Table 3. Harmful factors affecting the food safety of edible insects
Issues Derived hazard sources from edible insect Note
Microorganism Insect-specific pathogenic microorganism is not harmful to human
Gut and surface Enterococcus
Streptococcus
Staphylococcus
Pseudomonas
Bacillus
Clostridium
Enterobacteriaceae
Aspergillus
Penicillium
Alternaria
Candida
Allergene Cross-reactivity and co-sensitisation were observed with other crustaceans
Pan-allergenic structures Tropomyosin
Myosin
Actin
Troponin C
Tubulin
Hemocyanin
Defensin
Triosephosphate isomerase
α-Amylase
Trypsin
Phospholipase A
Hyaluronidase
Arginine kinase
Chitin
Pathogenic molds Aspergillus
Penicillium
Pathogenic yeast Candida
Chemical or toxin There were no reports that edible insect had toxin
Synthesis toxin Oxalate
Tannin
Phytate
Thiaminases
Cantharidin
Toluene
Quinones
Alkanes
Cyanogenic glycosides
Microorganism toxin Bacillus
Clostridium
Aspergillus
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Historical and Current Consumption Patterns of Edible Insects

Historical insect intake

The lack of sophisticated tools and well-developed hunting ability mean that ancient cultures likely consumed insects frequently (Valadez, 2003). Upon the development of agriculture and domestication of livestock, however, insect-eating habits have been disappearing in the many regions (Abrams, 1987). The resultant abundance of food naturally could also cause a decrease in the need for insect consumption. With changing cultural mores, insects have evolved from a primary food source to snacks, luxury ingredients, and bait (Smeathman, 1781). However, some countries have still continued to use insects as ordinary food resources to this day. Below, we will introduce and discuss detailed examples of current patterns of insect consumption.

Edible insects in Asia

In Korea, canned silkworm pupae are sold in retail markets and processed as snacks. Additionally, grasshoppers (Oxya velox) are eaten in rural areas (Pemberton, 1994). In Japan, a dish called inago involves fried grasshoppers seasoned with soy sauce. Moreover, bee or wasp larvae/adults are considered expensive delicacies; they are eaten raw, boiled with soy sauce, or served with rice (DeFoliart, 1999). Entomophagy has existed in China for over 2000 years; approximately 324 species from 11 orders are consumed possibly (Feng et al., 2018). India has the developed multiple uses for insects, including silk, fertilizer, food, and medicine. Notably, eri silkworm (Samia ricini) pupae is a delicacy in northeastern India (Peigler, 1993). Overall, about 255 species are used as food, although the intensity varies depending on seasonal or regional differences in culture (Chakravorty, 2014). In Thailand, insects are an important source of protein, fat, and other nutrients; the villages of Ubon alone consume 20–60 g of insects daily (Sungpuag and Puwastien, 1983). Over 80 species are considered edible food resources (DeFoliart, 1999). Furthermore, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health recommends insect consumption for rural communities to obtain necessary nutrients (DeFoliart, 1999), in addition, it has also spread from rural to urban markets (Yhoung-aree, 2010). The information on major edible insects consumed in Asia is summarized in Table 4.

Table 4. Most consumed insects as food resources traditionally in Asia
Country Scientific and common name of consumed insects Consumed type
Korea Bombyx mori Silkworm Pupae
Oxya velox Grasshopper Adult
Japan Oxya yezoensis Grasshopper Adult
Oxya japonica Grasshopper Adult
Vespula lewisii Bee Larvae, pupae
Bombyx mori Silkworm Pupae, female adult
China Bombyx mori Silkworm Pupae
Antheraea pernyi Tussah silkworm Pupae
Tenebrio molitor Mealworm Larvae
Polyrhachis dives Weaver ants Adult
Apis cerana Honey bee Larvae, pupae
Locusta migratoria Locust Adult
Coccoidea Scale insect Adult
Cicadoidea Cicadas Adult
Apongopus chinensis Stinkbugs Adult
Odontotermes formosanus Termites Adult
Anax parthenope Dragonfly Nymphs
India Samia cynthia Eri silkworm Larvae, pupae, adult
Corizus hyoscyami Cinnamon bug Adult
Termits Termits Adult (winged, queen)
Schistocerca gregaria Locust Adult
Honey bee Adult
Udonga montana Pentatomid bug Adult
Thailand Oecophylla smaragdina Weaver ant Adult
Meimuna opalifera Walker’s cicada Adult
Allonemobius fasciatus Ground cricket Adult
Anurogryllus arboreus Short tailed cricket Adult
Belostomatidae Giant water bug Adult
Bombyx mori Silkworm Pupae
Cotinis nitida June beetle Adult
Omphisa fuscidentalis Bamboo caterpillar Larvae
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Edible insects in Oceania

Sago grub (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) is a popular edible insect in Papua New Guinea and a main part of an annual grub festival (Mercer, 1993). In local regions, locusts, crickets, mole-crickets, mantises, and even spiders are consumed (Meyer‐Rochow and Changkija, 1997). Aboriginal tribes consumed a wide variety of insects from Cossidae, Noctuidae, Cerambycide, and bees (Macfarlane, 1978). In Australia, entomophagy is low among European-derived populations (Yen, 2010). However, the edible-insect market has increased dramatically alongside an interest in bushfood, and insects are now available as restaurant menus (Irvine, 1989). More information about the edible insects in Oceania are given in Table 5.

Table 5. Most consumed insects as food resources traditionally in Oceania
Country Scientific and common name of consumed insects Consumed type
Papua New Guinea Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Sago grub Larvae
Locusts Adult
Crickets Adult
Mantis Adult
Australia Cossidae Larvae
Noctuidae Larvae
Cerambycide Larvae
Bees Adult, honey
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Edible insects in Africa

Edible insects play an important role in the food culture of Africa (Mutungi et al., 2019). Caterpillars and termites are the most popular insects, but the insects from other orders are also widely eaten (DeFoliart, 1999), including Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, and Coleoptera (Kelemu et al., 2015). In total, approximately 470 species are consumed, and eaten insects are summarized in Table 6. Some examples from specific countries include grasshoppers, considered a source of energy and protein in Uganda (Mbabazi, 2011). Additionally, edible insects could account for over 20% of the animal protein produced in the Democratic Congo, where more than 65 species are consumed (DeFoliart, 1999). Overall, entomophagy is widespread and important to human nutrition in Africa (Mutungi et al., 2019).

Table 6. Most consumed insects as food resources traditionally in Africa
Country Scientific and common name of consumed insects Consumed type
Nigeria Macrotermes natalensos Termite Adult
Microtermes bellicosus Termite Adult
Brachytrupes membranaceus Locust Adult
Nezara viridula Stinkbug Adult
Anaphe reticulate Reticulate bagnet Larvae
Cirina forda Pallid emperor moth Larvae
Anaphe venata African silkworm Larvae
Oryctes monocerus Palm beetle Larvae
Rhynchophorus phoenicis Palm weevil Larvae
Analeptes trifasciata Stem girdler Larvae
Oryctes boas Rhinoceros beetle Larvae
Oryctes monoceros Rhinoceros beetle Larvae
Aphodius rufipes Dung beetle Larvae
Heteroligus meles Yam beetle Larvae
Apis mellifera Honey bee Egg, larvae, pupa, honey
Brachytrupes membranaceus Giant African cricket Adult
Gymnogryllus lucens Cricket Adult
Cytacanthacris naeruginosus Short horned grasshopper Adult
Zonocerus variegatus Grasshopper Adult
Gryllotalpa africana Mole cricket Adult
Uganda Macrotermes spp. Termites Adult
Ruspolia nitidula Grasshopper Adult
Chaoborus edulis Lake fly Adult
Ruspolia differens Grasshopper Adult
Congo Oryctes owariensis Rhinoceros beetle Larvae
Anaphe panda Silkmoth Larvae
Termites Adult
Bees Egg, larvae, pupa, honey
Kenya Pseudacanthotermes militaris Winged termite Adult
Macrotermes bellicosus Winged termite Adult
Macrotermes subhylanus Winged termite Adult
Pseudacanthotermes spiniger Winged termite Adult
Carebara vidua Black ant Adult
Ruspolia differens Grasshopper Adult
Download Excel Table
Edible insects in the Americas

Major edible insects consumed in the Americas are shown in Table 7. Edible insects are a major protein source for Amazonian tribes, with women and children actively foraging for them (Dufour, 1987). In particular, Rhynchophorus palmarum and Atta ants are popular and mass-produced in South America (DeFoliart, 1999). In Mexico, edible insects are traditionally eaten in both rural and urban regions. However, increasing westernization of cities after Spanish conquest eventually has limited entomophagy largely to rural areas (Ramos‐Elorduy, 1997). Nevertheless, Mexican restaurants often served escamol, an insect dish fried with aromatic spices (DeFoliart, 1999). In Colombia, the Yukpa people prefer insects over meat, but it has been forced to decrease insect consumption owing to massive deforestation (Ruddle, 1973).

Table 7. Most consumed insects as food resources traditionally in America
Country Scientific and common name of consumed insects Consumed type
Mexico Rhynchophorus palmarum Palm weevil Larvae
Sphenarium Grasshopper Adult
Schistocerca Grasshopper Adult
Atizies taxcoensis Stink bug Adult
Liometopum apiculatum Ant Larvae, pupae
Liometopum occidental Ant Larvae, pupae
Colombia Aidemona azteca Grasshopper Adult
Tropidacris latreillei Grasshopper Adult
Podischnus agenor Beetles Larvae
Caryobruchus scheelaea Beetles Larvae
Corydalus spp. Dobsonfly Larvae
Atta Ant Adult
Eumenes canaliculata Potter wasps Larvae
Polybia ignobilis Wasps Egg, larvae
Trigona trinidadensis Bee Honey
Trigona clavipes Bee Honey
Download Excel Table
Negative attitudes toward edible insects

The adoption of Western values among countries that traditionally consumed insects is correlated with a decrease in this behavior (DeFoliart, 1999; Ramos‐Elorduy, 1997; Yen, 2010). Therefore, Western attitudes toward edible insects must be adjusted to successfully expand the global market. Several explanations are available for why Western cultures generally did not develop entomophagy, including insect size, dispersed distribution, and seasonal unavailability (van Huis, 2016). Existing cultural differences were then used by Western cultures to denigrate traditional peoples, leading to an association of disgust with insect consumption (Looy et al., 2014). Furthermore, despite the fact that only 0.2% of insects are actually detrimental to human life, the persistent perceptions of harmful insects contribute to the reluctance in accepting entomophagy (van Huis, 2016). Further systemic efforts must be made to alter cultural attitudes through cooperation between academia, government, and industry.

Prospect of Insects as Food Resources

Despite the numerous advantages of insect consumption, the future of insect industry is unfavorable in Western societies (Sogari, 2015; van Huis, 2016), given that existing cultural distaste cannot be changed rapidly (DeFoliart, 1999). Fortunately, the increased consumer knowledge about edible insects also increases the willingness to pay for insect food (Piha et al., 2018). Continuous promotional efforts to increase exposure, coupled with development to enhance taste and appearance (Looy et al., 2014; van Huis et al., 2013), has successfully improved the negative perceptions in some Western countries. For example, consumers in Belgium increasingly accept insects as an excellent food source (van Thielen et al., 2019). Furthermore, the insect industry in the Netherlands has been successfully marketed, and the freeze-dried insect powder is sold as a meat replacement (Raheem et al., 2018). To increase acceptance, social, practical, and contextual factors affecting food consumption must be emphasized to consumers (House, 2016). Such efforts involve continuous education and promotion regarding the potential for edible insects to solve environmental, population, and land-availability problems today and in the future.

Here, we introduce available patents related to edible insects. The aim of this examination is to provide the objective information on the technological status of insect consumption, which will then be used for establishing strategic research and development. The patent applications related to edible insects have been filed yearly, with a notable uptick since mid-2010. Currently, 167 patents have been filed (Fig. 1). Thus, the research and development on entomophagy is being actively pursued. A sharp decrease in patent applications is observed starting from 2018, because it is probably that patents are released 18 months after application. In terms of the raw materials from edible insects, the most common patent applications are related to pupa, silkworm, brown goat, and grasshopper, in that order. Our analysis shows that most patents have been applying to protect food processing methods using edible insects.

kosfa-39-4-521-g1
Fig. 1. Patent application trend by edible insect technology year. Bars indicate the number of patent application each year, and a dotted line indicate the cumulative count of patent application.
Download Original Figure

To better understand technological growth, we compared the number of applicants and applications across various time intervals (Fig. 2). We employed a time-series analysis based on patent number, using a technical life-cycle method (Little, 1981). The degree of competition is defined as applicant number in the analysis section. Production efficiency is a means of analyzing trends in time series by replacing application number or the extent of increase in applications.

kosfa-39-4-521-g2
Fig. 2. Technology growth stage of edible insect patent application.
Download Original Figure

In general, the technology life cycle consists of introduction, growth, maturity, and decay. Applicants and applications begin to appear during the introduction period. During the growth period, application numbers increase. During maturity, the number of applications received, and the number of continuing applications start to decrease. During decline, the number of applications remains steadily low. In our analysis of total effective patent applications filed, we divided the technical life cycle trends into four sections, approximately a four-year term: 1998–2002, 2003–2007, 2008–2012, and 2013–2018. We observed a continuous increase in applicant and application number from section one section to four. This pattern indicates that edible-insect-related technology may enter the stage of growth. Taken together, these analysis of patent trends suggest that the technologies related to edible insects are experiencing rapid and continuous growth.

Conclusions

Entomophagy could be the solution to an increasingly urgent food-security problem confronting the world. As we have described, numerous countries already use insects as alternative food protein and feed sources. Existing researches confirm the considerable nutritional and medicinal values of edible insects. Various strategies have been deployed to expand the edible-insect market and to counteract existing animus among Western societies toward entomophagy. As a result, patent numbers have increased continuously. In conclusion, this review shows the current status of edible insect remains insufficient to replace traditional animal foods worldwide, although edible insects have strong potential to become a primary source of nutrients.

Notes

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Main Research Program (E0193118-01) of the Korea Food Research Institute (KFRI) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (Korea).

Notes

Author Contributions

Conceptualization: Choi YS. Data curation: Kim TK, Yong HI. Formal analysis: Kim YB, Kim HW. Methodology: Kim TK, Yong HI. Software: Choi YS, Kim HW. Validation: Kim YB, Kim HW. Investigation: Choi YS. Writing - original draft: Choi YS, Kim TK, Yong HI. Writing - review & editing: Kim TK, Yong HI, Kim YB, Kim HW, Choi YS.

Notes

Ethics Approval

This article does not require IRB/IACUC approval because there are no human and animal participants.

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Journal Title Change

We announce that the title of our journal and related information were changed as below from January, 2019.

 

Before (~2018.12)

After (2019.01~)

Journal Title

Korean Journal for Food Science of Animal Resources

Food Science of Animal Resources

Journal Abbreviation

Korean J. Food Sci. An.

Food Sci. Anim. Resour.

eISSN

2234-246X

2636-0780

pISSN

1225-8563

2636-0772

Journal Homepage

http://www.kosfaj.org

Same

JCR Citation Indexing

SCIE

SCIE


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