Entomophagy is the consumption of insects as food. Over 1,000 insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world's nations.
Hundreds of species have been used as human food. Some of the more important groups include grass- hoppers, caterpillars, beetle grubs and (sometimes) adults, winged termites (some of which are very large in the tropics), bee, wasp and ant brood (larvae and pupae) as well as winged ants, cicadas, and a variety of aquatic insects. Ordinarily, insects are not used as emergency food to ward off starvation, but are included as a planned part of the diet throughout the year or when seasonally available.
"A Concise Summary of the General Nutritional Value of Insects"; Reprinted from Crop Protection Volume 11, Gene DeFoliart, "Insects as human food........", pp. 395-399, 1992. Web archive.
Further quotes from this article:
Nutritional value of insects:
- "Insects are very high in crude protein, many species ranging above 60%."
"Insects vary widely in fat (and, thus, energy) content."
"Recent analyses of 94 of the insect species consumed in Mexico [...] yielded high fat and caloric values (Ramos-Elorduy and Pino, 1990). [...] Of the insects analysed, 50% had a higher caloric value than soybeans; 87% were higher than corn; 63% were higher than beef; 70% were higher than fish, lentils and beans; and 95% were higher than wheat, rye or teosintle."
- "The caterpillar, Usta terpsichore M. & W. (Satumiidae), was found to be a rich source of iron, copper, zinc, thiamin (vitamin BJ and riboflavin (B2); 100 9 of cooked insect provided > 100% of the daily requirement of each of these minerals and vitamins (Oliveira et al., 1976)."
- "Chitin comprises ~ 10% of whole dried insects" and is "a source of fibre and calcium".
- "The long history of human use suggests, however, with little evidence to the contrary, that the insects intentionally harvested for human consumption do not pose any significant health problem."
Efficiency compared to live stock:
- "The insects are many times higher in protein and fat than are the plants upon which they feed: for example, protein (on a dry weight basis) is 69.05% in the adult weevil, Metamasius spinolae Vaurie, compared with 5.21% in nopal, the cactus upon which it feeds."
- "When the cosmopolitan house cricket, Acheta domesticus, was maintained at temperatures > 30°C and fed a diet of similarly high quality to that used in bringing beef animals to market size and condition, the food conversion efficiency of the crickets was estimated to be more than five times that of beef animals (Nakagaki and DeFoliart, 1991). When the high fecundity of the cricket is considered (1500 offspring per female cricket compared with four standing animals in the beef herd for each animal marketed), the true food conversion efficiency is closer to 15-20 times greater for the cricket than for beef."