The world’s population is predicted to grow from 7 billion reported in 2010, to 9.8 billion in 2050. This increase will add more hungry mouths to feed and will require more efficient farming methods and higher yields from existing farmland. Almost 40% of our global land surface is already dedicated to farming.
Researchers in South Korea from Wongwang University have experimented with various cooking techniques and flavour additives with mealworms. The researchers found adding sugar to mealworms resulted in ‘meaty’ flavours and have create a mealworm infused seasoning.
Edible insects, like the mealworm, offer major environmental savings in their lower water and land usage than those of traditional livestock. When reared sustainably on food waste, insects also offer a circular, closed-loop food source.
"Insects can be reared on food that would otherwise be lost in production systems, so we can recover some of that food waste or food loss and rear insects on those," Professor Michelle Colgrave, leader of CSIRO future protein mission, told ABC News.
Another positive for insects is that they don’t expel methane like cattle and sheep that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Over a 100-year period, methane has the global warming potential approximately 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Broadening consumer appetite for insect protein sources could help reduce this strain on our environment.
Insects may be an exotic protein source for Australians for now. But in Korea, the home of the mealworm study, 10 insects have already been accepted as food ingredients. According to the project’s principal investigator In Hee Cho, mealworms were added to the list in 2016.
Besides environmental savings, the edible insect market also offers substantial economic opportunity for Australian producers. In Australia’s Protein Roadmap, authored by CSIRO in 2022, the economic opportunity for insect protein sources was conservatively estimated to be worth as much as $12 million by 2030.
Environmental and sustainable benefits aside, the growth of insect eating will come down to taste and presentation. As these researchers are investigating, producing an irresistibly tasty snack full of flavour could help overcome any lingering consumer reluctance.