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Seeking an insect superfood? Grasshoppers top the list

Growing population rates are presenting a challenge for humanity. We already use 70 percent of agricultural land to raise livestock; the oceans are overfished; many environments are becoming polluted, and climate change and disease threaten crop production. It is for these reasons that insect consumption (or entomophagy) has a growing number of adherents.

It is estimated that around 1,900 insects are edible. The main groupings are: Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (African caterpillars), and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants). But as with other food, some provide a greater balance of nutrients than others. For example, the new study from the University of Teramo finds that crickets pack a high level of antioxidants and silkworm fat twice the level of antioxidants compared with olive oil. And the study also notes that Grasshoppers and crickets have an antioxidant capacity similar to fresh orange juice.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Mauro Serafini states: “At least two billion people – a quarter of the world’s population – regularly eat insects. The rest of us will need a bit more encouragement.”

The researcher explains that edible insects are a good source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, vitamins and fiber. It is only recently that food technologists have begun comparing insects with more conventional and functional foods like olive oil or orange juice, in terms of antioxidant activity.

This produced some differences in terms of insects as food sources. The water-soluble extracts of grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets were found to possess the highest values of antioxidant capacity; whereas, giant cicada, giant water bugs, black tarantula and black scorpions (the latter two being arachnids) showed only negligible values. Levels of polyphenols were generally moderate across the insects tested, with grasshoppers, black ants, and mealworms containing the highest levels.

The research is published in journal Frontiers in Nutrition and the study is titled “Antioxidant Activities in vitro of Water and Liposoluble Extracts Obtained by Different Species of Edible Insects and Invertebrates.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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