Insects crawl towards European dinner plates after human food approval

13 January 2021, 11:43 | Updated: 13 January 2021, 12:26

Insects could soon start crawling their way into dishes on Europe's dinner plates after mealworms were approved as a human food.

Mealworms, which are beetle larvae rather than worms, are already used as a pet food ingredient.

But researchers said the "yuck factor" could make it a while before the larvae becomes a popular item on shopping lists.

Mealworms are the first insect to be approved for human consumption by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).

It paves the way for the yellow grubs to be used whole and dried in curries and other recipes and as a flour to make biscuits, pasta and bread.

Rich in protein, fat and fibre, they are likely to be the first of many insects to feature on European plates in the coming years.

Mealworms were the first insect to be assessed by the EU agency under a "novel food" regulation that came into force in 2018 - triggering a flood of similar applications.

EFSA food scientist Ermolaos Ververis said: "There is great interest of the scientific community and also the food industry in the edible insect sector."

People across much of the world - including parts of Africa, Australia and New Zealand - already enjoy tucking into insect bars and cricket burgers.

Once the European Commission ratifies EFSA's endorsement, such foods will become available in Europe.

However, it is believed psychological barriers are particularly strong in Europe which could make it a long time before the yellow worms start flying off supermarket shelves.

Giovanni Sogari, a social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma in Italy, said: "There are cognitive reasons derived from our social and cultural experiences - the so-called 'yuck factor' - that make the thought of eating insects repellent to many Europeans.

"With time and exposure, such attitudes can change."

EFSA said it had received 156 applications for "novel food" safety assessments since 2018, covering everything from algae-derived foods to an array of insects.