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Belgium’s beetle mania: Entering the brave new world of insect-eating

11:58 29/10/2014

Boil your bugs before you eat them, say the High Council for Public Health and the Federal Food Agency.

This week the two agencies issued a list of recommendations for the safe production, preservation and consumption of insect-based foods – long touted as a sustainable alternative to conventional meat products and the future of animal protein in an overcrowded world.

As entomophagy (eating bugs) begins to take hold in the Belgian public, supermarkets have begun stocking their shelves with their first bug-based products, making Belgium a leader in Europe in introducing insect alternatives to meat proteins.

Products and where to find them

Right now there are two brands of insect-based products on the market in Belgium.

First, there’s Green Bugs, a line of savoury vegetable spreads made with mealworms and found on the shelves of Delhaize supermarkets since September. The spreads were developed by the company Green Kow, trailblazers in the commercialisation of insect eating, and come in two flavours: carrot and tomato.

Following closely in Delhaize’s footsteps, in October food manufacturer Damhert launched its own insect line, appropriately named Insecta. Their product line consists of three items: nuggets, burgers and schnitzels. All are made out of buffalo worms that have been freeze-dried and pulverised, and then made into products following a similar process to other meat substitutes. Insecta can be found in most major supermarkets, with the exception of Colruyt, Lidl and Aldi.

Laws, safety, taste

Worldwide, there are 1,500 types of edible insects, with 12 types approved for consumption in Belgium.

Like all foods, eating insects can pose a few health risks (though these are largely thought to be less than the risks of large-scale industrial meat processing).

If eating insects directly, boiling or frying them will reduce the risk of ingesting any potentially harmful bug bacteria. However, if you’re buying Green Bugs or Insecta products, they have already been certified as safe to eat as part of the production process.

As for taste, the buffalo worm has been reported to taste nutty with notes of bacon and popcorn, which may, indeed, make for a tasty substitute for meat burgers.

Not vegetarian

Meanwhile, the Flemish vegetarian organisation EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative) reminds us that, while insect-based proteins might be more ecologically responsible than conventional meat production, they are not, in fact, vegetarian.

In a statement on its website, the organisation said, “While it might sound obvious, apparently there is still a lot of confusion about whether or not insects are vegetarian,” a term which they define as a meal that contains no product for which any animal was killed to produce.

The organisation goes on to warn that insect-based burgers and spreads should be clearly labelled, as they are often placed alongside the vegetarian products in supermarkets.

Photo courtesy Damhert.be

Written by Katy Desmond