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Photo: DTI

Scholarship article

Food for thought

Lars-Henrik Lau Heckmann leads a research team at the Danish Technological Institute that is developing the mass production of insect-based foods for humans. Fried cricket Bolognese is not just food for thought – it could soon be a normal part of our diets.

With several companies across Europe starting to produce food products based on insects, it might not be long before we are all eating beef or tofu made from insects, or pasta served with fried crickets rather than Bolognese sauce.

At the Danish Technology Institute (DTI), Lars-Henrik Lau Heckmann leads a research team developing mealworms for both humans and animals. The project, named inVALUABLE, is supported by the Innovation Fund. It aims to establish industrial insect production in Denmark with an annual turnover of Dkr200-300million.

“The plan is to get an insect factory up and running,” says Heckmann. “This is a completely new area and one that offers great potential, as there is such huge demand for both feed and eventually also protein foods from insects. It’s a new chapter in Danish food production.”

Photo: DTI

“Our ancestors ate insects for millions of years,” Heckmann says. “If we had had a natural, biological development without prepared foods, we would still be eating insects.

“We are relatively conservative in our food culture and in the western world most people still think eating insects is too primitive,” he continues. “People genuinely want to eat insects, but 80% would rather eat them in processed form – that’s to say in a form that doesn’t look like insects.”

The DTI is working closely with a large number of partners and has already signed commercial agreements with companies seeking advice on insect production. Large enterprises are also eyeing up the potential that insects offer as a source of protein – IKEA’s test kitchen, for example, has had insect burgers and mealworm meatballs on the menu since March.

In Europe, insect sales comprise just a few thousand tonnes today. However, this figure is expected to exceed 100,000 tonnes within five years.

“An estimated 16-17% of early adopters and foodies in Europe are keen to eat insects within the next five years. When it comes to Europe as a whole, with a population of around 740 million people, this will mean over 100 million consumers – which is a pretty big number.”

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