Insects on menu as market for 'new superfood' to reach €1bn
On their 500-year-old homestead in southern Finland, Kirsi and Jouko Siikonen have turned from raising pigs to farming six-legged creatures that could help resolve the world's looming food crisis.
After shrinking income persuaded them to abandon pork, seven months ago the couple transformed the muddy pens where as many as 1,200 pigs once wallowed into a climate-controlled cricket farm.
It's on pace to yield 1,500kg of the edible protein this year, much of which is ground into an ingredient for products from chocolate and crispbread to bar snacks and breakfast granola.
"One doesn't have to shovel manure on a cricket farm and the smell is trivial," said Ms Siikonen, whose family has owned the homestead since the 1500s. "The job is physically light compared to pig farming. Crickets don't sting or bite. A pig will bite on pure curiosity."
Insects, already part of the diets of two billion people, mainly in Asia, are set to reach more dining tables as consumer concern about the environmental and social costs of producing beef, pork and poultry overrides the yuck factor of eating bug-filled burger. Using little land and emitting a fraction of the greenhouses gases generated by cattle, that appeal will grow as a surging population stretches scarce global resources.
Producing a kilogram of crickets takes less than a fifth of the feed that cattle eat to yield the same amount of beef, according to the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation. Insects require significantly less water and don't need either antibiotics or growth hormones. About 1,900 insect species are found in traditional diets, with some of the biggest markets being Thailand, Japan, China, Australia and Peru.
Ground-up crickets are mostly tasteless, which makes them easy to add to foods like sausages, cookies, muffins, tofu and even ice cream.
The powder is a filling option, containing far more protein than wheat flour used to make bread.
The global market for edible insects may almost triple over the next five years to about €1bn, according to Meticulous Research, a Pune, India-based researcher.
With legislative changes expected to smooth the path of insects onto European plates, supermarkets are showing interest. Germany's Metro is selling noodles made with insects, while Carrefour stores in Spain are offering 10 products, including energy bars and granolas.
For the moment, it is more expensive to raise edible insects in Europe and North America than in Asia, where higher demand provides economies of scale. Fresh crickets fetch €20 to €40 a kilo in Europe and North America, compared to €5 in Thailand, home to 20,000 farms, according to EntoCube.
Edible insects are a "super-food," according to Massimo Reverberi, the founder of Bugsolutely, which makes pasta from cricket flour in Thailand and silkworm snacks for the Chinese market.
"If you ask a team of scientists to design the perfect meat, they will probably come up with an insect," he said.
"Some people say it will be like sushi in 20 years. I am really optimistic that it may be a lot faster."