Starting from January 1st, this year it will be possible to breed and sell insects for food consumption in Italy. Italians are open-minded people. Will they be open-mouthed, too?
“Waiter, a fly in my soup!” “On its way, Sir!”. Since a few days ago, this is officially no longer a joke, but a reasonable request made by a client in a restaurant. That is, if the kitchen is up to giving the recipes of the future a go.
Since January 1st 2018, so-called “novel food”, which among others includes algae, mushrooms and insects, has been regulated in Italy, following in the footsteps of Belgium, France, the UK and Holland, and can be produced, sold and, yep, served at restaurants. According to food trend analysts, it will be the restauration industry to make insects a mainstream gastronomical choice.
And it’s no surprise. If you ask a stranger on the street to taste an insect, he will recoil in horror, but the same person will be easily tempted by a knowledgeable chef into trying a new dish with an unexpected twist.
Several particularly innovative chefs have already invested in this dynamic. Starting from the Belgian David Creëlle, specialised in locust- and coleopteran-based dishes, passing through the French David Faure, patron of the Aphrodite restaurant in Nice whose pièce de résistence is a cricket and farine de blé noir shortbread. Finally, there is young Roberto Flore, chef of the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, who reminds us that the traditional Sardinian cheese Casu Martzu is best enjoyed with the larvae of the cheese-skipper fly which colonises it.
Let’s say that talent is investing heavily in making entomophagy mainstream. But the fundamental question remains: why do it? Why force ourselves to enjoy eating something that is uninviting at best, and repulsive at worst? Shouldn’t food be a pleasure also for the eye and for the mind?
The answer is obvious, albeit straight out of a food-dystopic sci-fi film with Soylent Green reminiscences: in the future, there won’t be enough food for everybody, and insects will be an inevitable gastronomical solution.
With a headcount nearing 8 billion in 2024, and with resources remaining the same as a hundred years ago (when there were less than 2 billion of us on the planet), the feeding problem, especially when it comes to proteins, will become a pressing issue. It is now clear that intensive farming meat will be the first to go. Bovines are simply no longer sustainable: a cow produces more than 300 litres of methane and consumes ten kilos of feed to produce one kilo of protein. Some line-fished fish such as cod and some crustaceans like crayfish are also destined for extinction. Sure, experiments are ongoing regarding in vitro meat production, but the costs are currently too high for the market.
This is why insects are the best candidates for the food of the future. They have an excellent nutritional conversion index: since they don’t waste energy to maintain body heat, they produce a kilo of proteins with less than two kilos of vegetable fodder. Plus, they need close to no water and living space, and they produce minimal droppings and greenhouse gases.
This doesn’t mean we’ll all be munching away on skewered scorpions like the Chinese do. It’s more likely that, in the Old Continent, except for the most adventurous palates, the rest of us will be enjoying insects in the form of flour.
This, at least, is what Marco Ceriani claims, an insect-based food matrix researcher and developer, who recently collaborated with Lodi’s Scientific Park to create Pan Seta, the world’s first panettone made with silkworm flour. It’s environmentally friendly, because it puts the otherwise trashed larvae to good use. It’s nutritious, because larvae are 60% protein. And it’s Made in Italy, which in itself is enough to get our appetites going, even if the main ingredient is an insect. Kudos to Pan Seta!