Delegates at the World Food Summit 2017 in Copenhagen, Denmark pushing for Better Food for More People got a taste of the future of food among forkfuls of vegetables.
For lunch on the first day of the two-day annual conference, a dish of roasted vegetables came garnished with a topping of mealworms.
The little critters, fried brown and crispy, looked innocuous and didn’t appear to cause much of a stir. In fact, if you didn’t look carefully, you would think they were bits of fried onion.
Mealworms are the larvae of the mealworm beetle or Tenebrio molitor, cultivated as food for cage birds, reptiles and small mammals. The vegetarian grubs are considered a clean, odourless and inexpensive live food, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins, including B12.
Most diners read the label and took a scoop of the vegetables, a dish making up a part of the small lunch buffet. If some had just the slightest of hesitation before scooping up the food, it went largely unnoticed.
A Danish woman laughed when she realised they were mealworms but had no problems finishing her vegetables. “This is not the first time for me,” said the fortysomething, who said she works in the gastronomic field. “Mealworms have been popping up in the dining scene recently so it’s not that strange to see it here.”
Peering tentatively at the dish, a young Dane scooped up some vegetables to try. He said the taste was acceptable but winced a little. Would he eat it again? Not if it can be avoided, he said. “I had to close my eyes when I ate them.”
A Japanese delegate laughed nervously when asked if she ate the worms. “Yes, I did, but I didn’t like it much,” she said, shaking her head, more amused than aghast.
A delegate from Shanghai found the worms toasty and nice. “Like crunchy fried dried prawns,” he quipped. If it was a sneaky way to test if insects could be palatable, the point was made.
The caterer for the event, creative outfit Meyers Contract Catering, said the menu proposal sailed though without any objection from the organisers but added that it was the first time they served up insect at an official function.
With mealworms being served at a global food summit held at the Danish Parliament, insects have officially arrived – the event was attended by Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and the Minister of Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, as well as politicians, decision makers, experts, gastronomy frontrunners and scientists from countries around the world.
The objective of this year’s Food Summit is to chart a “Roadmap to 2030” to inspire local and global action linked to the four themes explored this year: Better information, Safer food, Food diversity and Prevention of food waste.
In its 200-page May 2013 edible insects report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has urged people to eat insects to fight world hunger, improve nutrition and lessen the burden on the environment and it has been predicted that we will all be eating insects in 2050 when world population will have surpassed the six billion mark.
Another independent business pushing the edible insect agenda in Denmark is the start-up Dare to Eat. Its co-founder and “insect nerd” Malena Sigurgeirsdottir said energy snacks powered by insects can cover your iron, protein, omega 3, and vitamin B2 needs.
“There are many reasons for us to start eating insects,” said Sigurgeirsdottir who studied termites in Kenya for her thesis in Agricultural Development and ate insects every day.
“First of all, animal protein is going to be more expensive as food as world population grows. We all need protein and insect has the complete range of nine amino acids, like meat. It is also full of omega 3 which you find in fish so insects are like meat and fish combined in one. It is also rich in iron, zinc and calcium.
“In a world where there is a lack of food resources insects play an important role, but problems with nutrition exist not only in poor countries but in the western world as well. Then there are environmental factors why we should be eating insects. Besides these, they are delicious and there are over 2,000 edible insects for us to choose from!”
The company had earlier this year launched three convenience raw snacks made of freeze dried insect flour they call Dare Squares: peanut butter and buffalo worm; chilli, chocolate and cricket; chia, coconut and mealworm.
Sigurgeirsdottir said her mission is to create nice looking food to make insects appetising; her greater mission is to create a responsible food culture to fight malnutrition and climate change.
“Of course you need to disguise it as nobody is interested to eat a whole insect – we Danes are not ready for it. But you can take advantage of this amazing nutritional source by crushing it into flour and you can really get a lot of insect into one bite,” she said. Like 16 crickets or 60 worms in a bite of Dare Square.
The fun thing about insects? “You can to a degree control the taste of insects. When you feed them peppermint, they take on the taste of mint!” But “it doesn’t work with all food flavours,” she said.
Becoming a world pioneer
It’s certain Danes can look forward to more creepy crawlies on their plates. Innovation Fund Denmark has invested 2.7 million Danish krone (RM1.85mil) in an insect project – inVALUABLE – which will make the country a pioneer in industrial production of insects for feed and food with an estimated annual turnover of 200 million to 300 million Danish krone (RM137mil to RM206mil).
According to the Fund’s website, the total budget of inVALUABLE is about €3.7mil (RM19mil), making it the largest R&D project on insect production in the EU to date.
The goal is to set up insect factories and the inVALUABLE project will focus on the production of mealworms, which among other things can live off residues from bakeries and breweries.
With a rapidly growing world population, there is increasing focus on developing new sources of protein, and here Denmark should be first mover, the website quotes scientific project manager Lars-Henrik Lau Heckmann of Danish Technological Institute as saying.