FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Beastly bugs or edible delicacies - Workshop considers contribution of forest insects to the human diet

19/02/2008 Thailand

Chiang Mai- With over 1 400 insect species eaten by humans worldwide, the insect world offers promising possibilities both commercially and nutritionally, FAO said today. A workshop organized by FAO this week will consider the contribution of forest insects to the human diet, and discuss the potential for further sustainable development in the Asia and Pacific region.

While the idea of eating insects may seem unusual or even unappetizing to some, human consumption of insects is actually very common in most parts of the world. At least 527 different insects are eaten across 36 countries in Africa; while insects are also eaten in 29 countries in Asia and 23 in the Americas.

Of the hundreds of insect species reportedly eaten as human food, the most common come from four main insect groups: beetles; ants, bees and wasps; grasshoppers and crickets; and moths and butterflies. As a food source, insects are highly nutritious. Some insects have as much protein as meat and fish. In dried form, insects have often twice the protein of fresh raw meat and fish, but usually not more than dried or grilled meat and fish. Some insects, especially in the larval stage, are also rich in fat and they contain important vitamins and minerals.

[…] "Surprisingly little is known about the life cycles, population dynamics, commercial and management potential of most edible forest insects," said Patrick Durst, senior FAO forestry officer.

[…] In some areas, insects are only occasionally eaten as "emergency food" to stave off starvation. But in most regions where insects are consumed for food, they are a regular part of the diet and are often considered delicacies. In Thailand, site of this week’s consultation, nearly 200 different insect species are eaten, many of which are highly sought-after as delicious snacks and treats. Vendors selling insects are a common sight throughout the country, and in the capital, Bangkok.

[…] Wherever forest insects have been part of the human diet, the insects are usually collected from the wild, with most collectors focusing on larvae and pupae – the insect forms most commonly eaten. Simple processing and cooking are the norm and only minimal forest management is needed to exploit the resource.

[…] Aside from their nutritional value, many experts see considerable potential for edible insects to provide income and jobs for rural people who capture, rear, process, transport and market the insects. These prospects can be enhanced through promotion and adoption of modern food technology standards for food insects that are sold live, dried, smoked, roasted or in some other form. Care must however be taken to ensure that the insects are hygienically safe for human consumption and do not contain excessive amounts of chemical residues such as insecticides.

"Opportunities also exist for improved packaging and marketing to make edible insects more enticing to traditional buyers and to expand the market to new consumers, especially in urban areas," according to Durst.

[…] Specialists attending the three-day workshop will focus on edible forest insects and their management, collection, harvest, processing, marketing, and consumption. The gathering hopes to raise awareness of the potential of edible forest insects as a food source, document the contribution of edible insects to rural livelihoods and assess linkages to sustainable forest management and conservation.

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For more information contact Patrick Durst, senior forestry officer at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, email [email protected] or Thai cellular phone +66 81 827 5770.

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