EU startups seek to make bugs tasty

Tiziana Di Costanzo makes pizza dough from scratch, mixing together flour, yeast, a pinch of salt, a dash of olive oil, and something a bit more unusual, ground acheta domesticus, better known as cricket powder. Di Costanzo is an edible insect entrepreneur who holds cricket and mealworm cooking classes at her West London home, where she also raises the critters in a backyard shed with her husband, Tom.

Her startup, Horizon Insects, is part of Europe's nascent edible insect scene, which features dozens of bug-based businesses offering cricket chips in the Czech Republic, bug burgers in Germany and beetle beer in Belgium. But despite all the European startups working to make insects appetizing, don't expect them to start appearing at mainstream restaurants or on dinner tables just yet.

“It’s very difficult to turn people’s minds around but insects are absolutely safe to eat, maybe even more nutritious than meat products,” with the only risk coming from allergies because insects are closely related to crustaceans like shrimp, van Huis said.

Instead, humans may end up eating more insects indirectly because the market that shows the most promise is for feeding animals. The EU approved insect protein as feed for fish farming in 2017. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for chicken feed in 2018, while EU approval for poultry and pigs is due later this year.

Regulatory change has also made things easier for European companies looking to market insects directly to consumers. The EU didn't previously govern edible insects because they weren't considered food, leaving individual countries to impose their own rules. To bring rules in line across countries, the EU in 2018 launched a directive that covers insects but requires approvals for individual species, paving the way for a wave of authorizations.

Regulators issued another positive opinion this month for grasshoppers, based on an application from Protix, a Netherlands-based insect farming company. “Our vision is that insects will go from niche to normal," said Protix CEO Kees Aarts, who predicted an 'explosion of food applications' to EU regulators. At Protix's state-of-the-art vertical farm in Bergen op Zoom, green plastic crates stacked in towering columns are filled with wriggling black soldier fly larvae.

The high-tech facility turns the larvae into protein meal and oil for use in fish feed and pet food. The company also has a line of bug-based snacks and ingredients like cinnamon mealworms and cricket protein falafel mix and, after getting final approval, plans to market frozen, dried or powdered grasshoppers as an ingredient for breakfast cereals, pasta, baked goods, sauces and imitation meat.

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