Eating Insects Could Be the Next Food Craze to Hit Your Plate

As the world becomes smaller and more intertwined, customs and practices easily and quickly spread from one part of the world to others, whether it’s music, entertainment or food.

Especially food.

Certain types of ethnic food — Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc. — have been part of the U.S. mainstream for decades. Now, fusion restaurants, where different cuisines are combined and reinvented, are a growing trend.

But there’s one type of food, popular in many areas of the world, which hasn’t caught on with the American palate.

“Two billion people eat 2,000 different varieties of insects around the world,” said sophomore dietetics major Adrianna Gonnella. “The Western countries are the only countries around the world that don’t eat insects … so we’re in the minority.”

The Arnold/Wheeler Scholar aims to change that. She’s researching insects as a potentially sustainable and inexpensive source of food protein as part of her four-year scholarship.

“I was really interested in sustainability and sustainable eating. Then I stumbled upon an article … and eating insects is one of the trending ideas for a more sustainable protein source. I just got more and more interested. A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I love to try new foods, and I love to cook too, so it all just kind of combined into one new interest.”

Various factors drew Gonnella to dietetics, such as her love of cooking and her family’s Italian heritage that involved handmade pasta. Her mentor, Associate Professor David Olds, has been interested in edible insects for years, and Gonnella said her friends have even shown support, though not without some reservations.

“A lot of my guy friends are more interested than my girl friends,” she said.

Cultivating insects uses seven times less land and 100 times less water than producing animal protein. Gonnella noted they also provide lots of nutritional value. In addition, food sustainability and insect protein are two current key areas of current research — especially eating cicadas — which she believes might have something to do with their most recent return.

Crickets are another food source, either consumed whole or ground and used as a powder. Also popular are grasshoppers, ants and mealworms, also often ground into a flour. Gonnella said some ant species taste like citrus and in certain countries people use them as crouton-style toppings for soups.

Gonnella’s summer job at a Latin fusion restaurant gave her the chance to sample crickets when one of the chefs prepared them as a snack. She offered a similar opportunity to her classmates during a recent presentation featuring tortilla chips made with cricket powder called Chirp Chips. The snack found its way to the television show “Shark Tank,” which allows entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to successful investors.  

“In other countries you can buy (cricket powder) at a local market,” said Gonnella. “Here, you’re going to have to go looking for it or order it online,” adding she preferred the powder products over consuming the bug. Although she’s still not quite ready to make insects part of her daily diet.

“The crickets weren't bad. I guess, since I'm not used to eating that as a snack, it was kind of weird. I could see myself eating chips as a snack. I can't see myself just being like, “Oh, I'm going to go grab some crickets.’”

Bob Grimson ’81

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