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Edible insects - delicacy or allergy risk?

Posted by Janet Rhodes on


Edible insects taste good, are nutritious and readily available. They're a popular food for more than a quarter of the world's population, mainly those living in Asia, Africa and Latin America and now there is increasing interest in insects as a source of sustainable nutrition in Western countries as well. Insects can be eaten whole or easily processed into paste, ground into flour or their protein extracted for use as an ingredient or as animal feed.

In Europe, edible insects fall into the Novel Food category, Novel Food being defined as food that has not been consumed by humans in the EU to a significant degree before 15th May 1997. Following a strict scientific valuation by  the European Food Safety Authority, The Novel Food Regulation, valid since 1st January 2018, has given approval for the yellow mealworm, the migratory locust and the house cricket to be available for consumption in the EU.

Both the yellow mealworm and the migratory locust are intended to be sold as a snack or a food ingredient in a number of products:

Flour: pulverised and freeze-dried insects , eg cricket flour

Burgers: made from insect powder/insect flour, mainly from mealworms or house cricket

Protein bars: containing insect powder, commonly house crickets

Pasta: made of wheat flour fortified with insect flour from house crickets or mealworms

Snacks: crisps: made with insect powder as an ingredient

Dog food: from insect protein powder, contains 3x the protein of fresh chicken

However despite an encouraging growth in acceptance of insects as a food source, there is one group of people that should take care before hopping on the bug-eating bandwagon: those who are allergic to shellfish. 

This is because the shells of insects and crustaceans - shrimp, lobsters, and crabs - both contain the proteins tropomyosin and arginine. These are the proteins responsible for triggering allergic reactions in humans when they are eaten or inhaled (as with dust mite allergen) including hives, swelling, abdominal pain, or breathing difficulties.

Current advice  is for anyone with seafood allergies to avoid insect protein.  

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