Cricket for the Planet
Food is an emotion. Eating is a sensory experience with a certain combination of flavours and aromas activating enzymes and stimulating certain parts of the brain evoking pleasure and experiences. With food we remember and perceive our culture. That is how food is connected to places. ‘Petha of Agra’ or ‘Dal bati churma of Jaipur’ or ‘Dum biryani of Hyderabad’ or ‘Rasgolla of Odisha’ or ‘Puran poli of Maharashtra’ eloquently present the local traditions, climate and connect generations. The astonishing aspect of food is that though people perceive the culture through it, they are equally welcoming to novel foods. Wheat, onion, carrots, potato, tomato, garlic, apple have all originated outside India and brought here by travelers. They have now become an indispensable part of Indian cuisine. Food has been impacted by the geopolitical situations in the past and will certainly be impacted by climate change. Eventually people will search for leaner and cleaner food with high protein content and that future is closer than it appears.
For centuries human beings had adopted entomophagy (insects for food). Humans learnt it probably from animals who searched and consumed protein rich insects. Humans have been consuming everything from beetles, caterpillars, locusts, termites, and dragonflies until the practice of agriculture started. As the practice of agriculture and animal husbandry matured, attitudes changed and people started perceiving insects as pests. The practice of entomophagy is based on the facts that insects require minimal resources to thrive, are very easy to harvest as they exist in swarms and contain high protein content on a mass basis. For instance, on a mass basis goat meat has 27% protein whereas crickets contain 60% protein. On the other hand, obtaining goat meat requires 63 liters of water per kilogram of protein whereas crickets require only 2 liters of water per kilogram of protein. These statistics are ever more relevant in the context of food security for an estimated 9 billion human population by 2050. Leaner and cleaner food is essential to achieve the target of zero hunger (sustainable development goal 2). However, when it comes to the idea of eating insects in practice, the surveys suggest that people feel disgusted to consume an insect as it appears but are open to eating an insect in the form of flour. To this end, cricket flour has got the attention and acceptance in worldwide markets for human as well as pet animal consumption.
The Cricket is considered to be one of the most promising farmed insects due to its attractive nutritional profile. Apart from providing a rich source of high-quality protein for human consumption, crickets offer several other advantages as a source of vitamins and minerals in food for humans. They have a short life span and produce numerous offspring (1000-3000). The ideal conditions for cricket farming involve heat (29-35° C), relative humidity of 40% and good amount of space as crickets like to spread out as they mature. The crickets are harvested at the end of seven weeks and are freeze dried. Freeze dried crickets are used in milled form as flour. People have reported the flavour profile of cricket flour as mildly nutty and more pleasant than expected. Cricket flour also imparts a subtle earthy taste that easily disguises itself with other ingredients and flavours when processed. From the cricket farming perspective, the insects are omnivores, and nutritionally flexible which opens up a great opportunity for utilization of processed industrial food waste.
A staggering one third of all the food that is produced goes to waste. The waste generated in the food industry originates mainly from food processing, logistics, and households. A minor part of this waste is used for biofuel and compost production, but most of it is dumped. In industrialized countries, up to 75% of the total food waste comes from food processing industries which can be utilized for generating a new protein source in the form of crickets. Insect-based bioconversion of food waste offers an exciting vision for food security as it enables food production in densely populated areas (urban settings) against the common notion that urban development and food production are antagonistic. Though a relatively nascent industrial sector, mass production of insects for food and secondary products is a rapidly growing enterprise with significant potential for growth. This bioconversion route could also contribute to climate change mitigation. In India, there is a limited scope for human consumption of crickets but India can definitely focus on the production and export of crickets owing to perfect weather conditions for cricket farming and exponential growth in protein powder market.
Dr. Saurabh C. Patankar &
Mr. Kunal K. Godambe