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As Edible Insects Become More Popular, Thailand’s Insect Farming Community Is Growing

Someone stands to make a killing once the rest of the world wakes up to the fact that insects are the food of the future.

As Edible Insects Become More Popular, Thailand’s Insect Farming Community Is Growing
[Photo: Flickr user Christopher Jensen]

The world is finally catching up to what dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have long known: insects are nutritious and maybe even tasty. As a result, Thailand’s edible insect farming industry is taking off in a way it never has before.

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A story from the AP details the rapid growth of the country’s edible insect industry, which now consists of over 20,000 insect farms dishing out 7,500 tons of grasshoppers, crickets, and other critters each year. Thailand is now the largest producer of edible insects.

Compared to most other things, insects are pretty simple to grow–and they’re easy on the environment. It takes two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and a cubicle-sized area to generate a pound of crickets. A pound of beef, in contrast, requires 25 pounds of feed, 2,900 gallons of water, and a whole lot of land. In times of drought (and all other times, really), you can’t beat insects for low-impact protein.

Some insects are also quite nutritious. Crickets contain 12.9 grams of protein per 100 grams, which is approximately half the protein contained in beef and chicken. Giant water beetles are even better, with 19.8 grams of protein per 100 grams. And caterpillars, with 28.2 grams of protein per 100 grams, have more protein than beef and chicken, and about as much as fish.

From the AP article:

In countries as far apart as Laos and Ghana, projects are underway to combat malnutrition with insect farming. And there is major growth in the breeding of insects for feed at fish and poultry farms and for bio-security through the release of some species to combat pests.

In Thailand, many people–not just the rural poor–simply enjoy eating some of the 200 different species on offer. Large quantities must be imported from Cambodia, China, Laos, and Myanmar and domestically often fetch higher prices than chicken, beef or pork.

In the U.S., crickets are taking off as the insect ingredient du jour. A company called Exo makes cricket protein bars, while Bitty Foods offers cricket flour for baking. These are still novelty products, however, and in many cases, North American startups are opting to source their crickets locally (Exo, for example, works with farmers in the U.S. who already breed crickets for fishing bait and reptile feed).

But if insect protein moves beyond the smallish community of people in the U.S. willing to try anything in the name of health, Thailand’s insect farming community could really take off.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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