here’s everything you need to know

Singapore has taken the plunge and approved 16 insect species as safe for human consumption.

Creatures deemed worthy of the designation by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) include crickets, grubs, moth larvae and one species of honeybee. The agency says it made the decision simply because the insect industry is “emerging and insects are a new food item here.”

Related: How Insects Could Feed the World | Emily Anthes

This is because the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) continues to promote insect consumption as an environmentally friendly way to include protein in your diet – for both people and their livestock.

As Singapore paves the way for signs that are becoming curvier, thinner and more durable, find answers to all your questions here.

Which species are intended for human consumption?

Singapore has approved 16 species of insects, in various stages of growth. In the adult stage, there are four crickets, two grasshoppers, a locust and a honeybee. In the larval stage, there are three species of mealworms, a white larva and a giant rhinoceros beetle larva, as well as two species of moths. Silkworm moths and silkworms (different stages of the same species) are both allowed to be eaten, according to the guidelines.

“It’s really amazing to see that they now have such a big list of species that are approved for human consumption,” said Skye Blackburn, an Australian entomologist and food scientist who advocates insect consumption and sells insect-based products. “It really shows that Singapore is a bit more open to edible insects than we thought.”

Anyone up for some sushi with silkworm garnish?

A Singaporean restaurant chain called House of Seafood is already preparing to serve 30 insect-based dishes, the Straits Times reports, including sushi decorated with silkworms and crickets, salted egg crab with superworms and “Minty Meatball Mayhem”: meatballs decorated with worms.

Insect products that are allowed to be imported, according to Singapore authorities, include: insect oil, raw paste with insects as an added ingredient, chocolate and other confectionery containing up to 20% insects, salted, pickled, smoked and dried bee lava, marinated beetle larvae and silkworm pupae.

According to Blackburn, one of the encouraging aspects of the Singapore list is that it includes species that are not yet commercially farmed for consumption, including the European honeybee and the larva of the giant rhinoceros beetle.

Where else do people eat insects?

Insects are eaten in 128 countries, according to a study published this year in the journal Scientific Reports, which found that 2,205 species are eaten worldwide. Most of these species are found in Asian countries, followed by Mexico and African countries.

In Thailand, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, hundreds of species of insects are eaten, while Brazil, Japan and Cameroon each eat more than 100 species.

Singaporean chefs can import many creative insect recipes from around the world, where they are served fried, on skewers, in noodles, in margaritas, in arancini, canned or confit. Insect products are sold in restaurants, markets, supermarkets and vending machines all over the world.

The EU is in the process of approving more insects as what it calls “novel food sources,” but has only approved four so far. Australia has only approved three species so far—a cricket and two species of mealworm—as “non-novel, non-traditional” food sources.

Is it okay to eat bees?

Aren’t bees endangered and desperately needed to sustain the Earth’s basic life systems? Blackburn says that almost all bees eaten are drones, or male bees – which don’t have stingers – and that they are usually removed from the hives to deal with pest infestations.

“They’re taking the drones out of the hives because that’s where the varroa mites live,” Blackburn said. “So the drones are actually being used as a food source because it’s a byproduct of the hive.”

In some African and Asian countries, female bees are also eaten, she says, but the venom breaks down, or “denatures,” when you cook them. They are eaten ground or stir-fried.

Blackburn has eaten drones and says they taste like “sweet butter.”

“It was very beautiful, not quite like honeycomb, but [it had] as a very mild, sweet taste.”

In Cambodia, bee pupae are cooked in honeycomb and are a popular street food. They are used, for example, as particularly rich waffles or as small choux pastries.

Why does the UN want us to eat insects?

Because climate is crucial and insects are a much more sustainable source of protein than livestock.

They have a high “conversion rate,” meaning they are efficient at converting plant energy into protein, or in other words, converting what they eat into their own bodies. “Crickets require six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and two times less than pigs and broilers to produce the same amount of protein,” according to the FAO.

They can also be grown indoors, using less space and water and producing fewer emissions. Because they can be grown in relatively small spaces in rural and urban areas, they can also be a source of income for people who have less access to land or the training needed to raise livestock.

Could it be that we already eat insects without even knowing it?

According to the SFA, companies must clearly state on packaging whether their product contains insects, “to indicate the true nature of the product”.

But some of the products headed for store shelves look pretty unremarkable: A Singaporean company called Altimate Nutrition hopes to sell protein bars whose orange-and-yellow packaging looks like any other protein bar product, except with crickets: “Enjoy the classic nutty, gourmet taste with a guilt-free twist!” the website states. High-protein pasta could be made using flour made from ground insects, much like cookies or protein shake powder.

But if you’ve ever eaten food dyed red, you may have eaten carmine, a red dye made from the shells of shellac beetles. It’s “added to everything from yogurt and ice cream to fruit pies, soft drinks, cupcakes and doughnuts,” according to the BBC.

Elsewhere, the shiny shells of sweets are made from a resin secreted by the lac bug. And then, of course, there’s honey and bee pollen.

And if you eat animals, they may have eaten insect protein. The FAO recommends using insects – including soldier fly larvae, house flies, mealworms, silkworms and locusts – as a supplemental food source for livestock, poultry and fish. The black soldier fly can reduce manure pollution by up to 70%.

What’s the best way to convince people to eat insects?

Let them ask questions, says Blackburn, and teach kids about eating insects. One of her most popular products is corn chips made from crickets, she says – they are now sold in 1,000 Australian school canteens as a healthy snack.

“It’s exciting too,” she says. “What kid wouldn’t want to eat a cricket chip?”

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