Tasting insects - To eat or not to eat?

 

Birgit A. Rumpold and Nina Langen

Technische Universität Berlin, Dep. Education for Sustainable Nutrition and Food Science

 

Central Message

For a successful utilization of edible insects as food and feed, consumer acceptance is a central aspect and needs to be enhanced. Information is one potential promising tool for increasing the consumers´ willingness to try insects.

Background

Insects are rich in protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals1 and can be produced sustainably and resource-efficiently2. As an alternative high-quality protein source, they can contribute to world nutrition. However, up to now insects are a mostly unexploited food and feed source in Germany, Europe and even on a global level. One major hurdle for a successful utilization is consumer acceptance. In countries such as Germany, where entomophagy, i.e. the consumption of insects, has little to no tradition, consumer acceptance is low.

Strategies to increase consumer acceptance of novel foods such as insects includes the creation of positive taste experiences, the use of familiar dishes (e.g. insect burger) or familiar carrier products (flavour-flavour-conditioning, e.g. chocolate-covered or barbecue-flavoured insects) or information3.

Objective of our study was to investigate the impact of information on consumers´ willingness to taste insects. 149 people were interviewed and afterwards offered to try dried mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and locusts (Locusta migratoria). The interview before the tasting included questions regarding

  • Previous experiences with entomophagy,
  • Perception of open-mindedness towards new things in general,
  • Personal opinion on insects as food of the future and as sustainable alternative to meat and
  • Willingness to eat and buy insects in different forms (whole, ground as an ingredient e.g. in a bar).

If the interviewee was not willing to taste, additional information was given and insects were offered again. Information included for example: “Insects are nutritious and rich in protein”. The consumers´ willingness to taste initially and after information was recorded. Finally, the socio-demographic and educational background (age, gender, cultural background, educational level) as well as the eating habits (vegetarian, vegan, omnivorous) of the participants were inquired.


Results

A 149 people have been interviewed at a science night in Berlin (Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften Berlin, June 24, 2017) of which 45 % were male and 55 % female. Their age ranged from 10-69 years (84 % were above 18 years). A 46 % of the interviewees had a tertiary education (bachelor or higher).

 

Only 26 % of the interviewees had previously eaten insects. Notwithstanding, 69 % tasted insects right after the interview, while 31 % initially declined the tasting. 20 % of the people who declined (9 out of 46) could be persuaded to taste insects via information so that 75 % of all people interviewed (112 out 149) tasted insects (Fig. 1).

 

Fig. 1 – Amount of interviewees tasting insects along the methodological approach.  (© Nina Langen & Birgit A. Rumpold)

53 % of vegetarians and vegans (n=19) tasted insects whereas 78 % of the omnivorous (n=130), i.e. people who also eat meat, tasted insects.
A gap between imagination to taste and actual tasting was observed.

Conclusion

The setting chosen did not result in a representative test group. The interviewees were assumedly more highly educated than average and were interested in science.

In view of similar European studies in recent years, it was unexpected that 75 % of the participants tasted insects. This could be an indication that the initial threshold to try insects in general is decreasing. This could be due to the increasing amount of media coverage of the topic. Information appears to be a promising tool for the persuasion to try insects. 20 % of the people who declined and were given information could be persuaded by information to taste insects. The more difficult step will be to insert insect-based products in the regular meal plan of the consumer.

 

Recommendation for decision makers and next steps

In order to successfully market sustainable insect-based products in Germany and Europe on a large scale, more consumer and market research is necessary. In addition, expedient and ecologically worthwhile insect-based products need to be developed. In order to preserve global and European competitive ability more research funding on insect-related food research is required.

 


References

[1] Rumpold, B.A.; Schlüter, O. (2013): Nutritional composition and safety aspects of edible insects. In: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 57 (5): 802-823. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201200735).

[2] Rumpold, B.A.; Schlüter, O. (2013): Potential and challenges of insects as an innovative source for food and feed production. In: Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies. 17 (1): 1-11. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ifset.2012.11.005).

[3] Macfarlane, T., Pliner, P. (1997): Increasing Willingness to Taste Novel Foods: Effects of Nutrition and Taste Information. In: Appetite 28, 227–238.


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