Insects as Snacks

A photo of the popular waterbug insect snack in Thailand.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

Chances are if you’re a westerner reading this post, you cringe at the idea of eating insects as snacks. But if you’re from Southeast Asia or China, you may think nothing of it at all. In fact, you may be eating some crickets right now as you read this. Eating a variety of insects is pretty common in Asia, and it’s about time that the practice found its way to the western world.
As a westerner, it’s easy for me to say that eating insects as snacks is weird. It’s just not part of my culture, and therefore it’s not something I’m eager to do. But I think there are just as many things in the western diet that seem strange to eat for someone from Southeast Asia. In many cases, our typical snacks are usually quite unhealthy and have no nutritional value. But try as you might, you can’t say that about insects.
A photo of the popular waterbug insect snack in Thailand.

Yummy insects ready for eating

In Thailand, you’ll see food carts selling stir-fried insects anywhere large groups of people gather. Most produce and meat markets will also have stalls dedicated to selling the popular snacks. This isn’t restricted to Thailand though – you’ll spot insect snack stalls in Cambodia, Myanmar and China too. Some of this is marketed to the tourist market. Westerners still see insect consumption as a novelty, or something you do to show how brave you are to your friends.

There are several insects that tend to be the most popular, namely crickets, silk worms, bamboo worms and beetles. Most of the bugs are stir-fried with salt and chilies until they are crispy. The smaller bugs are simply eaten like popcorn – you just pop them into your mouth, crunch a bit, and then swallow. Most of the flavor is from the seasoning, but all of the nutrients are from the insects.

The smaller bugs are simply eaten like popcorn – you just pop them into your mouth, crunch a bit, and then swallow.

More Protein Than Beef

Despite the fact that most westerners are uncomfortable with the idea of eating insects, they are actually very high in protein. In fact, about 65% of a cricket’s body weight contains protein. That’s about twice as much as beef, and far more sustainable. And crickets produce considerably less greenhouse gases.

A photo of silkworms sold as snacks in Thailand.

Smooth as silk (worms)

The UN has publicly promoted the idea of increasing the consumption of insects (entomophagy) all over the world. By the year 2050, it’s estimated that there will be 9 billion people in the world, and our food production will need to double compared to what it is today. Insect farming requires less land, less feed, and less production than any other type of protein farming.
A photo of a vendor in Beijing that sells Insects as snacks.

Scorpions, seahorses and starfish (ok, not all insects)

A photo of dried waterbugs, sold as snacks in Thailand.
A photo of dried seahorses and scorpions sold as snacks, in China.
A photo of crickets to be eaten as snacks, in Thailand.
The interesting thing is that most westerners already eat insects as part of their diet – they just don’t know it. In the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) actually publishes guidelines on what percentage of insects are allowed in our food. Because it’s pretty impossible for farmers to completely eliminate insects from the production cycle, a certain amount is allowed to remain in the mix. About 5% of the hops used to make your beer are actually aphids. It’s estimated that the average American eats about 2 pounds of insects in their food every year.
A photo of an insect snack vendor in Beijing, China.
A photo of scorpions sold as snacks in Beijing.
A photo of dried grasshoppers that are sold as snacks in Thailand.
A photo of an insect snack vendor in Bangkok, Thailand.
So what’s stopping you? About 2 billion people are already eating insects in their diets. Sooner or later, insects are going to crawl their way into your diet, like it or not. If you are with me in Southeast Asia, maybe we can buy a bag of crickets to share with a beer. You first, though.

Ready to hop in?

Are you interested in jumping in head first (or thorax first?) into the edible insect market? Here’s two companies that are already producing food with cricket meal as part of the ingredients:

Cricket Pasta – Bugsolutely
Protein Bars and Powders – Earthproof Protein 

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