'Disgust factor' must be overcome if planet-friendly insect food to become mainstream

The "disgust factor" must be overcome if insect-based foods are to become mainstream, according to a study.

Insects can be high in protein and making them more acceptable could help cut the high greenhouse gas emissions that come from farming cattle.

There are also potential benefits for cutting obesity and researchers say the idea of farming insects is gaining more attention.

Hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are estimated to already eat insects to some degree.

There are hopes Western attitudes could shift over time, perhaps in a similar way that food such as sushi has become mainstream.

"Insects are a potentially rich source of protein and micro-nutrients and could help provide a solution to the double burden of obesity and undernutrition," said study lead Dr Lauren McGale, from Edge Hill University in Lancashire.

"Some insect proteins, such as ground crickets or freeze-dried mealworms, are cheaper and easier to farm, often lower in fat and have a lower environmental impact than traditional livestock."

However, most people are still very reluctant due to preconceptions over taste and appearance.

But the study also found they were significantly more likely to give insects a go if they are ground into a powder.

"This has been done successfully with rice products fortified with cricket or locust flours in other parts of the world," said co-author Dr Maxine Sharps from De Montfort University.

Only 13% of the 603 people questioned in the UK study said they would be willing to regularly eat insect food.

Some 47% said they wouldn't eat it regularly, and 40% were unsure.

More than 82% of people expected insect food to be crunchy, 64.6% salty, and 62.4% bitter.

Only 24% said they expected to like the flavour, with just 14.1% believing insect food would look appetising.

Younger people also appeared more squeamish - and each year younger was associated with a 2% increase in saying "no" to the idea.

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"The disgust factor is one of most important challenges to be overcome," said Dr Sharps.

"After all, there may be eventually no choice with climate change and projected global population growth."

The study's findings are being presented at this week's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice.