Hi Reddit, Dr. Teun Veldkamp here. For the last decade, I’ve focused my studies at Wageningen University & Research on insects as animal feed and human food. I work with insects on a daily base for feed and food applications.

Insects are full of protein and fats and rich in essential micronutrients. They don’t need as much space as livestock, emit less greenhouse gases, and can convert low-grade side streams into high quality products in a very efficient way. Not only can we use them as food, but also as feed. These are exiting times, because the European Union has now fully authorised the use of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed. This can give the insect rearing industry a major boost.

I believe insects are key in creating sustainable food systems. Ask me anything about:

  • Insect rearing and optimalisation
  • Use of insects in feed/food
  • Potential challenges and opportunities

I will try to answer your questions to my best potential!

AMA on Monday October 11th from 11 am ET - Proof

EDIT: It has been a pleasure Reddit. I'm signing off now. Thanks for joining! For more information, you can always visit: www.wur.eu/insects.

My background:

  • I am senior researcher at Wageningen University & Research (my profile).
  • Coordinator of the EU project Sustainable Insect Chain (SUSINCHAIN), with a consortium of 35 partners.
  • President of the Study Commission Insects of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP).
  • Member of the editorial board of the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed.

Comments: 109 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

Riot_Shield135224 karma

Hiya Dr. Veldkamp,

If you were trying to impress a date with a home cooked, bug based meal, what would your go to recipe be? Let's assume for the sake of argument that they've not had bugs before, but are adventurous eaters.

WageningenResearch19 karma

For human consumption, in for example the Western European market, insects are often included as insect protein meal or insect oil in human food products. If consumers are not familiar with eating recognizable insects it is recommended to include insect products into regular diets in order to reduce the disgust factor.
Enjoy your date! Of course I do not take responsibility for the outcome ;)

bowyer-betty16 karma

So what you're saying is if I try to feed her baked grasshoppers then sex is almost certainly off the table?

WageningenResearch38 karma

Maybe you can add some Spanish fly to the soup ;)

Nitz9324 karma

How big of a role did Disneys Lion King play in forming your opinion towards eating insects?

WageningenResearch7 karma

Interesting question! Maybe Simba lead by example?

so_coconuts_migrate20 karma

Are they more likely to carry food borne illness/ disease than livestock and poultry? Are they more or less subject to the same problems currently plaguing the meat industry (growth hormones, unsanitary and unethical housing/ care, poor diet etc.)? How does the taste compare to vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives and livestock and poultry meat?

WageningenResearch10 karma

Safety is a very important issue and therefore the substrates you are using to grow your insects should be tested for contaminants (e.g. Salmonella) to guarantee that the end products (insects) are safe. All substrates for insects should be GMP+ certified. Currently many projects are running to study the suitability of low-grade resources (roadside grass, manure, slaughter by-products) as substrates for safe insect rearing.

No hormones are used in insect companies. Insect welfare and ethics are important topics in a large on-going project INSECTFEED by Wageningen University & Research (https://insectfeed.nl/). First it is studied how to measure welfare of insects.

I am not aware of a comparative sensory test between vegan, vegetarian meat alternatives and livestock and poultry meat.

AsdeBest10 karma

As a vegetarian, I would like to know: when you look at the ecological footprint, is it better to use insects as a base for food products, or crops like soya? And is this footprint simular for food as it is for feed?

WageningenResearch25 karma

In a recent publication it was shown that when compared to feeding insects to farm animals, the direct human consumption of insects has the largest potential to reduce our consumption-based carbon footprint.

Source: ScienceDirect – Vauterin A et al. The potential of insect protein to reduce food-based carbon footprints in Europe: The case of broiler meat production. J Clean Prod. Volume 320, 20 October 2021

The consumption of insects is more sustainable than the consumption of soy-based products.

Not_a_N_Korean_Spy9 karma

Thank you for doing the AMA. I understand the 1st part, but insects being more sustainable than soy doesn't make much sense to me intuitively. Do you have any sources/numbers to back it up?

I thought the reason soy was "bad for the environment", was because so much is used for animal feed.

EDIT : https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/ghg-per-protein-poore For instance, how would insects be below tofu in this graph?

WageningenResearch11 karma

Sustainability issues with soy are the land use, water use, transport over long distances, deforesting. Land and water use in insects is low and you can grow your insects locally. Many papers are available with so-called LCA studies in which different protein sources are compared for sustainability. One example: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344919300515

jugglervr10 karma

When I buy cheap canned crab meat, I get a lot of shell bits in with the meat that ruin it. Insects have chitin, too; is it noticeable when eating insects?

WageningenResearch17 karma

No in processed insects chitin is not noticeable. It’s important to mention here that the chitin in insects can be allergenic as it is in crustaceans.

wild_biologist8 karma

Could you comment on heavy metals. The extent to which you believe it is a problem and where we are in solving that?

WageningenResearch4 karma

In safety research heavy metals is one of the main parameters in novel substrates for insect rearing to be determined. Maximum levels of heavy metals have been included in regulations to guarantee the safety. Some insect species accumulate heavy metals and others not. It really depends on the insect species.
Feed ingredients for animals and food ingredients for humans are tested for heavy metals before inclusion.

dnjussie7 karma

Which specific insect is best suited for large scale farming, and animal or human consumption?

WageningenResearch8 karma

For large scale farming the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is often used for feed as well as the mealworm (Tenebrio molitor). For human consumption the lesser mealworm (Alphitobius) and the cricket is often used. Large scale farming has been applied for those species.

_FaunaAndFirearms_7 karma

How is eating bugs going to help me enjoy the flavor of food more?

WageningenResearch7 karma

Currently different insect products are used to produce different kind of food products and sensory test are done. Flavour really depends on the perception of the person.

Vmizzle6 karma

I would like to expand my mealworm farm, and have heard they are edible. Is this true? If so, do I need to take any special precautions, and do you know what they taste like? Where would you say they land, nutritionally?

WageningenResearch5 karma

Mealworms are edible insects. Don’t use all kinds of waste to grow the mealworm. Substrates should be safe to grow your mealworm. The taste of a pure mealworm as such is a bit ‘nutty’. I would place the mealworm in the nutritional landscape in the category of plant and animal proteins.

DagHenning6 karma

When considering insects as a feed ingredient for poultry:
-are there any negative effects we should take into consideration?
-can we expect any added values beyond the nutritive values (e.g. gut health)?

WageningenResearch7 karma

The chitin (part of the exoskeleton) content in insect larvae products can have an adverse effect on protein digestibility. On the other hand, you may expect beneficial effects of chitin on poultry immunity. Other insect components with functional properties are antimicrobial peptides and lauric acid. Both components can improve gut health. Many projects are focussing now on beneficial health effects of insect products in poultry and pig feed. First results are promising.

DagHenning1 karma

Thank you.
How do you recommend to measure the beneficial effects on immunity? Any biomarkers?
Likewise, how should I measure improved gut health? Lesions or degree of gut leakage?

WageningenResearch1 karma

Some suggestions to measure effects on immunity: CD4+ T lymphocyte, serum lysozyme activity, and spleen lymphocyte proliferation. The cellular mucosal immune system status of the broiler's intestinal tract can be measured by e.g., intraepithelial lymphocytes (CD3+ T lymphocytes, CD3+CD8+ cells, CD3+CD4+ cells, and CD3+CD4+CD8 cells). Intraepithelial T lymphocytes from isolated jejunum can be measured at post mortem. You can take blood samples to measure leukocytes, including granular (heterophils, eosinophils and basophils) and non-granular (lymphocytes and monocytes) leukocytes, and you can calculate the heterophils-to- lymphocytes (H/L) ratio. You can also do histopathological examination: villus height, crypt depth, and the villus height-to-crypt depth (Vh/Cd) ratio.

JazelleGazelle5 karma

Are there potential issues with the insects raised for feed and food escaping and becoming invasive species in the wild?
I've heard of meal worms being raised with agriculture waste products, but are most insects raised for feed and food raised with waste or do we need to grow crops specifically to feed them?

WageningenResearch6 karma

It is very important that the insects you grow don’t escape from your facility. Some species like the housefly can be a plague when there is an outbreak. Other species such as black soldier fly cannot survive in Northern European environment but can survive in Southern European environment.

The final aim is to feed all insects with waste. With waste it is meant here: products that cannot be fed directly to humans or animals. In this way you gain sustainability.

funkboxing4 karma

How close are humans, or what are the remaining obstacles, to creating a completely closed-loop food system using insects\animals and plants that could be self-sustaining in environments beyond Earth?

WageningenResearch7 karma

For sure it is possible to create a self-sufficient closed-loop food system. If you mean in environments on other planets (such as Mars), my answer is yes because insects are an essential link to close the food chain. For example you can upgrade all your food losses, and in the future maybe also faeces, into high quality insect ingredients for food. The remaining product after insect production can be used as fertiliser for your plants.

But how to keep the insects from floating away in space... This would be a whole new research topic ;)

CarouselAmbra813 karma

I'm studying environmental sustainability, and in every narrative essay I've had to write regarding green entrepreneurship or cradle to cradle, my topic of choice has been either eliminating polystyrene, or the environmental & social benefits of ending meat and dairy consumption. I've come across a lot in my studies regarding the nutritional aspects of seaweed, and though I know insects are high in protein, I didn't know they contained any additional health benefits. What sort of micronutrients do they provide? Do you foresee this turning into commercial mass-production? If so, what methods do you have in place to ensure agro-sustainability?

WageningenResearch4 karma

To answer this question I would refer to a paper we have published recently: https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/epdf/10.3920/JIFF2021.0031. Good luck in your studies!

forever_erratic3 karma

Things like mealworms are usually fed oats, grains, and fruit, which themselves must be farmed, removing a significant part of the benefit.

What insects do you think could be domesticated to feed less resource-intensive inputs?

WageningenResearch6 karma

Not the main products should be used for insect growing but the side products or food losses etc. Examples: brewery by-products, catering waste.

Mealworms require a dry feed (85% dry matter) and black soldier fly require a wet feed (35% dry matter). A lot of resources can be used to grow black soldier fly (BSF) larvae so this means that the resources for the BSF are less critical than for the mealworm. So the choice for certain resources is dependent on insect species.

PopeBasilisk3 karma

What is the advantage of insects as food over protein rich plants?

WageningenResearch2 karma

Insects include a complete protein and are also a good source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc.

cabinet_in_the_woods3 karma

Hello sir, what's the most nutrient-filled insect out there? So that I can start eating some of them now

WageningenResearch7 karma

For human consumption the mealworm is often used as food and is nutritious, but of course there are more such as crickets and grasshoppers. Those species are also nutritious similar to mealworm.

cabinet_in_the_woods3 karma

wow thank you , this information is really important for a survivalist like me. Is it safe to eat them raw? I've only eaten grubs but its cooked so it tastes like wood figured the cooking ruined it for me, wonder if the same thing happens to crickets.

WageningenResearch3 karma

I’m not really sure if it is safe to eat them raw. To be sure I would also recommend a heating procedure.

cabinet_in_the_woods1 karma

that's all , thanks again for the info sir, i'll look up on ways to cook mealworms and crickets. have a nice day!

WageningenResearch3 karma

Enjoy your meal!

kabre3 karma

Hey! Thank you for doing this!

My biggest mental block with eating insects is not that they're insects, but that they're a food where the digestive system is fully intact, and presumably still full of digestive materials. i.e. eating insects is, no matter how small the scale, eating poop.

Am I right about that fact? And if so, any thoughts on the matter? I'd love to be able to mitigate the gross-factor somehow!

WageningenResearch5 karma

One-day fasting is applied to ensure that the insect has an empty gut (degutting), and the insect can for example be freeze dried. This produces a safe product with a relatively long shelf life, if stored appropriately in a cool, dry place (https://edepot.wur.nl/258042)

Piercetopher3 karma

Why would insects be a better choice over just eating plants?

WageningenResearch2 karma

If there is insufficient land available to meet the protein requirement of the global population when moving completely to plant proteins, insect proteins could form a sustainable alternative.

JazelleGazelle2 karma

I've seen crickets in my local Hispanic grocery store. Do you have any good recipes you can share that incorporate them or other insects? I would love to try to add this to my diet.

WageningenResearch7 karma

My colleague wrote The Insect Cookbook: https://www.wur.nl/en/newsarticle/Insect-cookbook-now-also-available-in-English.htm

The book contains a large variety of recipes, ranging from Insect Burgers to Cupcakes with Buffalo worms and Chop Suey with grasshoppers.

Enjoy your insect based dinner!

tourist902 karma

At the current situation, would it be economic convenient to switch to the use of insects as feed in poultry production? Also, are you open to PhD candidatures? 😊 I have a master’s degree in Veterinary Medicine and experience in poultry production

WageningenResearch3 karma

Research is focussing on additional effects of insect meal inclusion in animal diets but also on provision of live larvae to improve welfare of poultry.
For PhD positions you can always take a look at: https://www.wur.nl/en/Jobs/Vacancies.htm and set a job alert.

drchigero2 karma

Wait wait....so the EU had to "approve" feeding animals the thing they would eat in the wild anyway?! lol. humans...

WageningenResearch6 karma

You are right: feeding insects to poultry and pigs brings them back to nature. However in livestock farming we should be very careful. Processed animal proteins were not allowed in animal feed since the BSE crises (prions - mad cow disease). In April 2021, the EU Member States voted positively on the authorisation of insect processed animal proteins (PAPs) in poultry and pig feed. This proposal represents a relevant milestone for the European insect sector, as it marks one of the key steps in the authorisation process.

drchigero1 karma

Good point, I hadn't considered that. Though (and I could be 100% wrong here) I though mad cow, etc was caused by feeding livestock itself. i.e. grinding up dead cows to feed cows, etc. And that's why certain anti-cannibalism laws were made re livestock. I could be misremembering that though.

WageningenResearch1 karma

The PAP ban was extended to all farmed animals, including insects due to lack of a safety profile (see https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4257 ). The ban is now loosened up.

Is not allowed to use processed animal products from ruminants in the food chain. And yes indeed, there is an anti-cannibalism principle for feeding processed animal protein to poultry or pigs. It is allowed to feed processed animal protein from pigs to poultry and from poultry to pigs.

fleshgod_alpacalypse2 karma

Hi, lots of courses at the wur talk about eating insects. Why not just eat plants?

What is your opinion on the ethical side of it all?

WageningenResearch1 karma

The protein transition from animal protein to plant protein is actual and is an option. However some have the opinion that there is insufficient land available to meet the protein requirement of the global population when moving completely to plant proteins.

Insect welfare and ethics are important topics in a large on-going project INSECTFEED by Wageningen University & Research (https://insectfeed.nl/). First it is studied how to measure welfare of insects.

WangfredWang2 karma

How may different insect species have you eaten, and of those which was the best and worst?

I would definitely eat insect meal depending on how it was used, but couldn't do a whole bug. I can't even deshell a prawn cause they give me the heebies.

WageningenResearch2 karma

In The Netherlands I have eaten prepared mealworm and in South Korea I have eaten an insect powder without knowing the origin. This powder had an umami/nutty flavour.

dingoperson22 karma

There's been a lot of talk about insects as food, but not much detail beyond that. Just curious:

do different insects taste differently? very differently? do you have any examples? If I want to check out how insects taste, what should I try?

WageningenResearch1 karma

A freeze-dried insect has a stronger flavour than in powdered form and indeed different insects taste differently. It also depends on what they eat and on the way you prepare them. If you want to try something out, you can always get inspiration from The Insect Cookbook made by my colleagues: https://www.wur.nl/en/newsarticle/Insect-cookbook-now-also-available-in-English.htm.

Final-Pepper-7962 karma

I'd assume that's met with a lot of disgust from some people. When u started out, did you feel repulsed by it too? Are there any insects that could be poisonous to humans, even after being cooked?

WageningenResearch1 karma

Researching insects is interesting and fascinating to me. There are so many possibilities. Maybe that's why I don't feel any aversion.

Not all insects are edible. Yde Jongema of Wageningen University & Research conducted a worldwide inventory using the literature, including from Western countries and temperate regions, and listed 1900 edible insect species worldwide as of April 2012. https://edepot.wur.nl/258042

Tikimanly2 karma

Have there been any efforts to breed an insect species better for farming than what we've found naturally? (Or are breeding improvements insignificant compared to what's gained by overcoming current obstacles toward entomophagy?)

WageningenResearch3 karma

Breeding and selection is now a topic in research. The variability with a flock is high and no selection has been made before, so there is a lot of potential to improve insect farming by breeding.

m_faustus2 karma

You mention that the lesser mealworm is one species that can be used for human consumption. How many meal worms would you have to consume for survival?

WageningenResearch1 karma

To answer this question, we need to know the protein requirement of an adult and the protein content of a mealworm. Let’s say the protein requirement is on average 70 g/day. A Fresh mealworm weighs 160 mg and contains 20% protein. So, one fresh mealworm contains 32 mg protein. To meet the protein requirement this results in 2200 mealworms per day corresponding with a total fresh mealworm intake of 350 g.

teasus_spiced2 karma

I've only eaten dried mealworms and dried crickets so far and was very unimpressed. Kinda like I'd imagine chomping on cardboard fished out of the bin after a week would taste and feel.

Were these particularly bad examples? Are they tastier fresh? Do you have any favourite recipes?

WageningenResearch2 karma

I recommend to have a look in The Insect Cookbook: https://www.wur.nl/en/newsarticle/Insect-cookbook-now-also-available-in-English.htm. The taste really depends on the way you prepare the insects.

Carp_2 karma

I'm looking for good meal worm farm plan I can adapt for 3d printing. Do you have suggestions as to where to look?

WageningenResearch1 karma

You may have a look at the website of Protifarm, https://protifarm.com/ or Ynsect https://www.ynsect.com/en/

SayuriShigeko1 karma

As someone with a serious phobia of pretty much all insects and other small crawly/flying things... how about no? Please god no?

This is the last solution I'd consider, starvation being a tough alternative to not pick over it. And I imagine a sizeable portion of the population would agree, making this seem infeasible as a serious solution on a large scale. Maybe a worthwhile option for those who are okay with it, but there's gotta be other options that are easier to sell the public on.

Mayyyybe as feed? I'm not sure how I feel about that, but as food it just sounds like a very uphill battle against culture/acceptance, more so than about health and sustainability metrics, no?

Also I have a hard time understanding how adding another animal into the food chain between plant and live stock increases available nutrition, doesn't every step take some away? (This is the same reasoning that eating a plant based diet uses less plant matter, crop space, and transportation impact, than eating plant-fed cows or other live stock)

WageningenResearch1 karma

I can imagine that eating insects seems unpleasant if you are not used to it (yet). It is a perception of many West European consumers. Consumers in Asia have a different perception.

Including as a high-quality insect protein meal in regular diets is in my opinion a great opportunity. Insects in animal feed brings those animals back to nature. Yong animals in the wild first start searching for insects to fulfil their high protein requirement at young ages.

Insect products inclusion in regular human diets and feeding insect products to animals are included in an on-going project SUSINCHAIN (https://susinchain.eu/). Sustainability is an important theme in this project and is studied by use of Life Cycle Assessments.

ElegantFirefly1 karma

I once heard that a pound of flies contains more protein than a pound of ground beef. But I have never found any good sources to back this up. How true is this based on your expertise?

WageningenResearch1 karma

You may want to have a look at this paper doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2015.149. “Are edible insects more or less ‘healthy' than commonly consumed meats? A comparison using two nutrient profiling models developed to combat over- and undernutrition”.

Mundane_Swordfish_301 karma

Have you ever seen Weta? And when can we buy canned insects as food at supermarkets, around 2025?

WageningenResearch1 karma

Insects are already available in some supermarkets. In the novel food regulation some insect species are approved now for the human food market in Europe.