Getting Westerners to eat insects, a not so complicated challenge when you have the “right recipe!”

Protein-rich food from breeding farms of low environmental impact; a solution to compensate for the insufficiency of the animal production necessary by 2020; a serious alternative to intensive animal production… These are some of the arguments put forward to promote the cultivation and consumption of insects!

In this context, the commitment of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which has been promoting the consumption of insects since 2008, is much better understood: a source of protein and micronutrients, insects are a sustainable nutritional, ecological and economic alternative to animal proteins.

Insects-based products
Who’s hungry?

Entomophagy and its psychological drives

So why are we so reluctant in Western countries, to consume insects when they have so many virtues? The problem lies in our consumption habits. While human consumption of insects (called entomophagy) is a traditional cultural practice in some Asian, African and Latin American countries, eating insects as food is still considered “culturally inedible” in the West.

Then, how can we make the consumption of insects acceptable? Authors Céline Gallen, Gaëlle Pantin-Sohier and Dominique Peyrat-Guillard took up this challenge. The goal of their research is clear: to understand the mental mechanisms underlying the acceptance of entomophagy.

They carried out a qualitative study in the form of focus groups and individual in-depth interviews with 37 consumers. The participants tested several products, selected according to their degree of processing: whole plain insects (flour worms, silk worms, bamboo worms, crickets, European mole crickets, grasshoppers), whole seasoned insects (flour worms and crickets with curry and barbecue flavors) and processed insects (cheese shortbread cookies and chocolate cakes made from crushed flour worms). The collected verbatim has been subject to a thematic content analysis, followed by a lexicometric analysis.

Acceptance of insect consumption depends on processing the product to mask taste and recognition

According to the thematic content analysis, unprocessed insects are considered “inedible in our culture.” They generate aversion, food disgust and fear of getting sick from eating them. The authors don’t stop there! They show that the more insects are transformed, or even hidden, the more they are accepted.

In other words, when insects are associated with known taste markers (curry, barbecue) or when they are incorporated into familiar foodstuffs (cheese shortbread cookies, chocolate cakes), the product is no longer categorized as “inedible.” Its evaluation rests solely on the sensory attributes of the foodstuff, which serve as a reference without evocation of imagery related to insects, which are sources of disgust and aversion.

In view of these results, the authors have clearly understood the “recipe” to use in order to lift the barriers on insect consumption. Acceptance can only be achieved in stages, allowing a proportion of consumers to become progressively more familiar with it. It must first be eaten in a hidden form mixed in familiar foods, to make way for a second step, and in the longer term, to consumption in whole and unprocessed forms.

So, back to your plates! On the menu, the chocolate fondant with cricket flour. Yum! (or not…)

Gallen, C., Pantin-Sohier, G., & Peyrat-Guillard, D. (2019). Cognitive acceptance mechanisms of discontinuous food innovations: The case of insects in France. Recherche et Applications En Marketing (English Edition), 34(1), 48–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/2051570718791785

Blog post adapted from Ouidade Sabri’s (in French)

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