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Photo: Andreas Houmann

Scholarship article

“We want to start a food revolution”

With their company Wholi, Malena Sigurgeirsdottir and Jessica Buhl-Nielsen want to encourage people in the West to eat food made from insects. The SAS Scholarship has given them the opportunity to visit local insect farmers in Cambodia and participate in the largest edible insect conference in the world, held in China.

Malena Sigurgeirsdottir clearly remembers the first time she tasted insects. She was working as a teacher in Tanzania and, although she herself is a vegetarian, she tried the fried grasshopper, which is a national delicacy.

“To my astonishment, they were delicious. They were filled with umami, which is a flavor I love and I would eat them often.”

When she returned home to Denmark, she began to take a deeper interest in insects as a source of food, and studied natural resources and environmental economics at Copenhagen University. Her thesis looked at how insects can be turned into a sustainable replacement for meat.

In 2016, she met Jessica Buhl-Nielsen, a graduate of the Copenhagen Business School. They decided to team up and start a company, Wholi, specializing in making food based on insects. They then began experimenting with homemade recipes using insect flour in Buhl-Nielsen’s kitchen and in fall 2016, they launched their first products – insect flour made from Buffalo worms, and snacks containing chocolate and crickets. The small, square “Dare To Eat” snacks have a sweet taste and are reminiscent of products made from dates.

“Our products are not only healthy, but also delicious. We want to make a product that is so delicious, that you can’t not eat it,” says Sigurgeirsdottir.

The food of the future

There are many good reasons to eat insects as an alternative to meat or fish. They have a high protein content – there is as much protein in 100g of insects as in a 100g steak – and are rich in fiber, omega 3 fatty acids and a variety of other minerals and vitamins.

There are also sound climate reasons for eating food made from insects. While it takes 15,000-20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of beef, it only takes 1-5 liters to produce 1kg of insects. Furthermore, CO2 emissions generated by breeding crickets are 75% lower than generated by raising chickens. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), demand for animal protein will increase by 70% by 2050, so it’s essential that we find alternative solutions for meat production.

Insect farm in Phom Phen

Wholi was selected as the Danish winner of the SAS Scholarship.The women behind Wholi received a trip to New York, where they ate at a variety of restaurants – each of which had insects on the menu – and met with celebrity chef and entrepreneur Claus Meyer.

“Claus Meyer has helped create a universe and a movement focused on ecology and sustainability, and that’s exactly what we want," says Buhl-Nielsen.

In addition, the scholarship has also allowed them to visit local insect farmers in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, where they exchanged experiences with local producers. In May 2018, the two entrepreneurs attended the aforementioned Insects to Feed the World edible insects conference held in Wuhan, China. There, they exchanged experiences with other producers of insect-based foods and tasted different insects, including scorpions and honey bees from China.

At present, Wholi’s products are sold in the Irma chain of supermarkets and a number of specialty stores and cafés throughout Denmark, as well as in a number of selected stores in the UK and Germany. In five years, the pair hope that Wholi will have launched a range of products that will form a viable alternative to meat. They already have the next product in the bag – a type of tofu made from 60% insects and 40% legumes, produced in collaboration with the Danish Technological Institute in Aarhus.

We believe that the majority of people really want to change their habits and move away from eating so much meat, provided that they can find delicious and nutritious alternatives,” says Buhl-Nielsen.

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