There is a wide debate surrounding the nutritional values of insect species. With more than 2,000 known species being cited as edible around the world, the range of information is vast. For the purpose of consuming insects in the West this short blog post will focus on just three species; crickets, mealworms and silkworms. Insects are a normal part of the food culture and diets of many people in numerous places, but many now agree that these three species have the largest potential to penetrate mainstream dietary habits in the West.

Due to the rise in human population, the demand for animal protein is also increasing. To meet this demand, alternatives must be acquired as current sources are increasingly unsustainable. Insects are becoming an increasingly viable option in meeting this demand, and it has been suggested that they are nutritionally superior to vegetables, and comparable to meat. However, the facts seem a little murky and highly variable due to the vast number of species and even the life stage within the same species, habitat and diet. Also, like most food, the means of cooking or processing for consumption will alter the nutritional values.

Here we have undertaken in depth research of many academic and scientific papers that exist around the issue and have presented average results from those which we feel are most reliable, taking many factors into consideration.

Protein

The protein content of insects has been found to be highly variable, ranging between 7.5% and 91%, which is not very helpful! When delving a little further into the academic journals a little clarity can be found however.

Through averaging data found we have come up with the following values for the protein contents of crickets, mealworms and silkworms.

Species Protein content- based on dry weight (%)
Crickets (Acheta Domesticus) 63%
Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) 46%
Silkworm (Bombyx Mori) 58%

The content amount is comparatively higher than the content in protein-rich animal sources like pork (21%), beef (20%), chicken (15%), egg (13%), and plant sources like pea (5%). Getting a sufficient level of protein is important for the body. They are not only the foundation of muscle building, but also perform a vast array of functions including catalysing metabolic reactions, DNA replication and transporting molecules.

 

Fat

Fat represents a large portion of the nutrient composition of edible insects. For example, dung beetle larvae have the highest found amounts of fat at around 77%. Fat is vital in contributing to a healthy diet, especially unsaturated fats which can help lower risk of heart disease. Crickets contain high levels of these unsaturated fats and many insects also contain high levels of beneficial mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Species Fat content- based on dry weight (%)
Crickets (Acheta Domesticus) 15%
Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor) 37%
Silkworm (Bombyx Mori) 33%

 

Vitamins and Minerals

Many edible insect species are said to be high in vitamins and minerals, for example, the western honey is cited to have vitamin D ten times that of cod liver oil, and vitamin A several times that of egg yolks!

The silkworm contains a variety of vitamins, inclusing Vitamin A and Vitamin B groups.  While these vitamins are found in plant and animal products, including dairy, eggs, greens and meats, the silkworm has a comparatively much higher vitamin B1, B2 and B5 content than even the best sources of vitamins.

Crickets are also high in vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and contain many essential amino acids, such as Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine and Valine. Which may just sound like strange words to many people but they all play a vital role in the functioning of the human body! Crickets are also high in calcium.

Finally, mealworms are particularly high in the amino acids methionine and cysteine; methionine helps in treating liver disorders and improving the ability of wound healing. Cysteine, built directly from methionine, contributes to general well-being.

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