Don't make a meal out of insects

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Anyone for beetle dip, ant tacos, cricket fried rice? No? That doesn't surprise researchers from the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS).

Their blunt advice to those worried about dwindling food supplies is simple. Don't make a meal of the insect ingredients - you'll just put people off. Instead, simply produce brilliant dishes that no one can resist and let the tastes do the talking.

Most of the insects eaten in the world are picked up locally and added to complex or interesting preparations, which make them a true competitor to other food choices’, explains Dr Ophelia Deroy, researcher at SAS’s Centre for the Study of the Senses and author of a report on the subject. ‘Insects are not eaten out of necessity, but for their desirable taste properties: this obvious fact is seemingly missed by most of the current research and policies.’  

The report, ‘The insectivore’s dilemma, and how to take the West out of it’ is written in association with Ben Reade, former head of culinary research and development at the renowned Nordic Food Lab, and Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychologist at Oxford University. It is based on an exhaustive survey of all the recent research done on eating insects, and reveals everything that is wrong with the thinking that people will buy a packet of grilled crickets, or bread made with insect flour as healthy snacks or to save the planet. Public policies treating 'insects' as a general category and thinking that people will be convinced by arguments, are heading the wrong way.

While some people want to believe that a negative attitude toward insects in general is the main obstacle to regarding them as a tasty meal, Dr Deroy and her collaborators disagree. They stress that the revulsion felt toward insects as food is more nuanced and more of a question of taste. According to their theory, flavour and the smells will sell the proposition. 

The research also suggests people are less likely to be disgusted by bees than crickets, and that trying to compete with existing crispy snacks is not a good way to develop people’s trust and interest. Instead, it advocates overcoming people's neophobia (the reluctance to try new foods, which is frequent in children), by starting with the most familiar example of the new food category, and not with the most difficult. Another key, says the report, is to make the dishes visually attractive and rewarding to eat and share with others, which Dr Deroy says ‘crosses three different perspectives in the human, culinary, and experimental sciences.’