Fancy some grubs in your grub? You might if you can't see them
If the world is going to feed itself in the future, we need to get used to the idea of eating alternative sources of protein such as insects. To help us adapt, Dr Louwrens Hoffman and his team at the University of Queensland in Australia have turned to the art of disguise by incorporating maggots, other insect larvae and even whole insects like locusts in pre-prepared food.
Palatability is hugely important when it comes to food, especially new food ideas, and perceived palatability is just as important. This has been born out by studies that have shown that even gastronomically brave Westerners, who might be willing to try insects in as part of a dish, will often recoil from preparing an insect based meal from scratch themselves.
"Would you eat a commercially-made sausage made from maggots? The same question can be asked for other insect larvae and even whole insects like locusts," says Dr Hoffman."The biggest potential for sustainable protein production lies with insects and new plant sources. In other words, insect protein needs to be incorporated into existing food products as an ingredient – one of my students created a very tasty insect ice-cream, for example."
Eating insects and grubs, a practice known as entomophagy, has a long history in the diets of many cultures around the world, but it's still a tough sell in the West. Dr Hoffman and his team have begun looking into insect-based pre-prepared food – such as sausages – as a way of introducing this nutrient dense food source to our fussy plates.
These days, few of us give a second thought to what exactly makes up our traditional breakfast sausage and imagining the origins of the sausage casing alone is enough to turn many of us green. Tell someone they are eating the slimy, collagen-rich layer of the gut of a ruminant animal and see what happens. But we've been conditioned to ignore this and we chomp away happily.
It's this psychological conditioning which researchers such as Dr Hoffman hope to take advantage of. If we can get used to eating insects and grubs without having to see them in their entirety, then that's a big step towards eventually accepting them as raw ingredients in our pantries down the line.
"An overpopulated world is going to struggle to find enough protein unless people are willing to open their minds, and stomachs, to a much broader notion of food," says Dr Hoffman.
It's not just people food that Hoffman and his team are interested in though. A concurrent project is looking into the use of maggots from the black soldier fly as a source of protein for the chicken industry. This makes perfect sense, as chickens left to their own devices, will eat mostly grubs, worms and insects.
"Poultry is a massive industry worldwide and the industry is under pressure to find alternative proteins that are more sustainable, ethical and green than the grain crops currently being used," says Dr Hoffman.