Nova (1974–…): Season 48, Episode 16 - Edible Insects - full transcript

Takes a tasty look at insect foods that could benefit our health and our warming planet.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
The future of food

is being revolutionized
by science...

as new research helps bring

unexpected ingredients
to the table.

Kind of tastes like shrimp.

They have this seafood
quality to them.

It reminds you of, like,
a Frito or a chip.

Just, like, crunchy and a little
oily and a little salty.

They taste like popcorn.

A very smushy taste.

Like a pudding, almost.

The citrusy flavor,

it's so incredible.

Researchers are revealing

these delicious ingredients
could do wonders for our health.

They're full of
polyunsaturated fat,

they're full of protein,
and they have a whole range

of trace minerals
and micronutrients.

Potential prebiotic effects

and potential reductions
in gut inflammation.

Those two things
are very exciting.

So what are these
miraculous foodstuffs?

Well, they're insects!

Thousands of edible species

in all shapes and sizes.

It is gastronomy in the
highest form.



Not everyone is convinced.

What I would say to
anyone that's nervous

is, I'm right there
with you still.

I'm right there with you still.

But some researchers believe

that chowing down on insects

could have made
our species smarter.

Our brains run on fat.

That extra fat in their diet
contributed to supporting

this little bit larger brain.

And in the future,
eating insects

may help save us from
ecological catastrophe.

To produce more meat

than we already do
is incredibly problematic.

The mass production

and the way
that we're doing it now

is simply unsustainable.

Insects offer so much promise.

They potentially
could feed the world.

But to make this change
a reality,

scientists, engineers,
and entrepreneurs

must crack the secrets
of insect farming.

Insect agriculture has
the potential

to radically transform
the way we produce food

around the world.

It only takes nine to 12 days

to turn what is a grain of sand

into an inch-long protein bar.

Automation fits so nicely

with this type of farming.

But will all this be enough

to persuade people

to change their ways...

So that, I can see the bugs.

And learn to love the bug?

On the count of three,

we're going to go for it.


One, two, three.


Welcome to the wonderful world

of "Edible Insects."

Right now on "NOVA."


Our planet is teeming with life.


But one of branch of
the family tree

is often overlooked:



I've always loved insects,
as long as I can remember.

When I was a kid,

I used to run around
my neighborhood

collecting insects
and bringing them home

to show my mom.

I think they're just amazing
and fantastic animals.

Entomologist Tanya Latty

has been obsessed
with insects for years.

And with good reason:

insects are everywhere.

Two-thirds of
known animal species

are insects.

For every one of us,

there are over
a billion of them.

survived and thrived on Earth

for nearly half a billion years.

And they've adapted to almost
every possible ecological niche.

Insects are the most diverse
animals on the planet.

There are millions of species.

There are so many species

that we're not even sure of
the exact number.

Either alone

or in vast colonies,

insects are a secret force

that regulates our world.

They pollinate, clean up,

and keep
the rest of nature in balance.

They help make our world tick.

We tend to overlook insects,

and that's a great shame,
because without them,

our ecosystems
wouldn’t function.

I mean, they do everything.

How can you not love insects?

But while some people love bugs,

others just love
the way they taste.


To some,
the idea of eating insects

may seem strange.

But in places like Thailand,

it's long been
a cultural tradition.


Very good, very good!


I've got coconut beetle grubs,

crickets, silkworm cocoons,
grasshoppers, giant crickets,

and bamboo caterpillars.


In Thailand,
insect-eating originated

in rural areas.

But over the last few decades,

the culture has
spread into the cities,

where urbanites are developing
a real taste for them.


I usually eat them

when I go out drinking
with my friends.

They taste fantastic with beer.

I eat them as a snack
between meals.

They are not scary at all.

They are extremely
healthy and natural.

I highly recommend
everyone gives them a try.

Insect-eating isn't unique to

Across the globe,
over two billion people eat

over 2,000 varieties of insect.

But not every bug
makes a good meal.

So which species
are the most popular?

At number five,
it's the Hemiptera,

cicadas and water bugs.

By all accounts,
they're quite a mouthful.

At number four,
it's the Orthoptera,

including locusts,
grasshoppers, and crickets.

Hard to catch, but famed
for their satisfying crunch.

In at number three,
it's the Hymenoptera:

including ants, bees, and wasps.

The venomous ones can
give their taste a citrus twist.

At number two,
it's the Lepidoptera...

Butterflies and moths
in their caterpillar state.

In Southern Africa,

millions of
these fleshy favorites

are devoured each year.

But at number one,

it's the beetles...

The Coleoptera,
especially their juicy larvae.

these grubs and weevils

make up nearly a third of
all insect species consumed.


Insects have been a part of
the human diet for millennia.

But scientists are discovering
they have a lot more to offer

than just a taste sensation.

So, this is the larva
of a scarab beetle.

So, when it gets older,

it's going to look a little bit
like a june bug.

To understand why scientists

are becoming so fascinated

by insect-eating,

this beetle larva is
a good place to start,

because its translucent skin
allows you to see

what's so special about
an insect.

If you look closely,

you can see this white stuff.

That's an organ called
the fat body.

It's not
actually the same as fat.

It's more like a combination of
fat and liver.

Many insects have these
spread throughout their bodies,

one of several nourishing
insect ingredients

that are impressing scientists.

These are very nutritious.

They are full
of polyunsaturated fat,

they're full of protein,

and they have a whole range of

trace minerals
and micronutrients.

Compared to a steak,
insects really stack up.

Steak is packed
with valuable protein,

iron, fats, and micronutrients.

But whether eaten as a fatty
larva or in an adult form,

pound for pound,
many bugs equal or better

the nutritional value of
the finest steak.

And there could be even more
nutritious species out there

just waiting to be discovered.

We've only really started
to investigate a tiny number,

and given that huge diversity,

there's a huge likelihood
that they could have

all sorts of different
nutritional profiles...

Some of which
may be excellent for us.


Insects are clearly

a great source of nourishment.

And this is leading
some researchers to ask:

Was an insect diet
key to the evolution

of the exceptional human brain?


Biological anthropologist
Julie Lesnik

is studying a puzzling chapter

in the story of human evolution:

a remarkable increase
in the brain size

of our ancient ancestor

was a small foraging ape

that roamed the African savanna

from just over
four million years ago.

But something big
is going on with her brain.

From about five million to
up to two million years ago,

we have this brain size
expansion of about 20%.

This is a substantial increase.

Its cause remains
an evolutionary mystery.

But experts believe
it probably took a special diet

to support this larger brain.

Brains are
energetically expensive.

And one thing they
especially need are fatty acids.

Our brains run on fat,

and fat is a very rare resource
naturally in our environment.

So what were they eating?

It's possible Australopithecus

obtained this fat by scavenging
the bodies of larger animals.

But Julie thinks
there's an alternative

and more surprising explanation.

Termite mounds
pepper the African savanna,

their rock-hard exterior

the fatty larvae within.

Our cousin the chimpanzee
forages for termites today

using ingenuity and simple tools

to penetrate
the termite fortress.

Chimpanzees can thread
into that termite nest

with a flexible probe made of
either grass or a green branch,

and the soldier caste
bite on to the end of that tool,

and then chimpanzees

extract them from the mound
and eat those termites

right off that probe.

This technique harvests
the adult insects.

But to get the fatty larvae,

you must penetrate
further into the mound.

Intriguingly, a number of almost

animal bones

have been unearthed
in South Africa.

Their smooth, rounded ends
show clear parallel scratches.

believe these are wear marks

from repeated strikes,

and that the bones are
actually Australopithecine tools

used for one specific job.

This is a prototype,

basically, of the types of tools

they were using
two million years ago.

A tool like this
can get through, especially

if you have a fragment

that has kind of a pointier end

that lets you penetrate it.

We can pretty confidently say

that these bone tools were
used to dig into termite mounds.

Breaking open the mounds

could have given
Australopithecines access

to the nutritious fat of
the termite larvae:

instant brain food.

By just adjusting a little bit

how they utilize
the same resource,

it's probably enough to get them
that extra fat in their diet

that contributed to supporting
this little bit larger brain.

Insects may well have

provided our ancestors with
key nutrients

at a crucial point
in their development.


But our bodies'
relationship with insects

may not have ended
in the distant past.

There's growing evidence
that an insect diet

may influence
more than just our brains.

Recent research suggests that
a key process in our bodies

gains significant benefits
from eating insects.

Our digestion.

Health scientist Valerie Stull

is fascinated by
the microorganisms

that populate
our digestive system.

Gut bacteria are incredibly
important to human health.

We actually have more
bacterial cells in our bodies

than we do human cells,
and they play a huge role

in our overall
health and well-being.

But some strains of gut bacteria
are unwelcome guests.

Too many of them make our gut

prone to inflammation
and disease...

Even cancer.

There's mounting evidence
that some modern Western diets

are upsetting
the healthy balance.

Diets that are very,
very high in red

and processed meats can lead
to imbalances in gut microbiota.

We know that refined sugars,
refined grains

are also not
particularly good for promoting

that healthy ecosystem
within the gut.

Valerie wondered whether

the insect diet enjoyed
in many parts of the world

could improve gut health.

I wanted to investigate,

what are
the potential health impacts

of eating insects beyond just
their nutritional composition?

Valerie gave 20 volunteers

a milkshake to drink
once a day for two weeks

as a part of their regular diet.

The milkshakes of half the group

had insects ground and
blended into them.

When their
gut bacteria was checked,

Valerie discovered
the insect shake

was having a noticeable effect.

We saw potential
prebiotic effects

in terms of promoting
the growth of healthy bacteria

and potential reductions in
gut inflammation.

Those two things are very

What could cause these changes?

The answer may not lie
with what's inside an insect,

but what's outside it.

Unlike vertebrates,

insects do not rely on
an internal skeleton.

Insects don't have bones
inside their body.

Instead, they have
the support on the outside.

It's a little bit like
a suit of armor,

and we call that an exoskeleton.

It's the material

the exoskeleton is formed from
that makes it so special.

The exoskeleton's
made out of chitin,

which is this
stiff, fibrous material

that gives it the structure.

It's unclear if humans can
digest chitin fiber.

But when ingested,

it appears to stimulate
the growth of good gut bacteria

in a way that
other dietary fiber may not.

Chitin may be
a missing ingredient

that helps generate a healthy,
balanced digestive system.

This can relate to so many
human health conditions.

We need more variable
gut bacteria.

We need abundant populations
of these healthy bacteria.

It suggests that in our past,

chitin from insects
was probably part of

the natural, normal,
basic human diet

that was used
to keep a healthy gut.


So, in the past,

insects in our diet
may have made our species

not just smarter,
but healthier, too.

And today,
they continue to serve

as an exceptionally
nutritious food source.

But some experts claim
that eating bugs

could do even more,

and help solve
a looming global crisis.

Forecasts predict that by 2050,

the human population will have
swelled to over nine billion.

If current
eating habits continue,

that would mean a doubling

of meat production.

But that could prove
very damaging to our planet.

How we produce meat
is awful for the environment.

So to produce
more meat than we already do

is incredibly problematic.

To produce a pound of beef

compared to a pound of corn

takes seven times more water
and 100 times more land.

This contributes to droughts and
high levels of deforestation.

Many scientists and
policy makers are now suggesting

that if we hope
to feed everyone,

we need a fundamental change.

It's not to say that
conventional animal agriculture

can't fit in with
a sustainable food system,

but the mass production and
the way that we're doing it now

is simply unsustainable.

The answer may lie in
exploiting a special ability

found in many invertebrates.

It turns out that insects

have the potential
to make protein

far more efficiently than
other animals.

The reason lies
in their physiology.

Animals like mammals and birds
are warm-blooded.

So what that means
is that we generate

a tremendous amount of
body heat.

Insects are a little different.

This is a thermal camera,

and what it'll let us do
is detect heat.

On the image,

Tanya's skin appears red,

meaning it's warm.

As a mammal, she is endothermic,

burning food to
generate internal heat.

But the spiny leaf insect
appears blue,

meaning it's cool.

It is ectothermic.

Ectothermic refers to
the fact that some organisms

are unable to
generate body heat.

If it's warm outside,

their bodies are
that same temperature.

If it's cold, they're also cold.

This physiological difference

has a major effect

on the quantity of
resources they need to grow.

Since insects
aren't wasting energy

trying to
keep their bodies warm,

most of the calories they eat
can be converted into nutrients

that we could then eat.

So you get a much higher
conversion efficiency

with an insect
than you would with a mammal.

When it comes to generating
animal protein efficiently,

insects rule.

To produce a pound of beef

requires nearly
ten pounds of feed.

But growing a pound of insects
needs less than two pounds.

One pound of beef also requires

over 2,000 gallons of water.

But the same weight of insect

can take less than 12 gallons.

If you're farming an insect,

you don't need to
feed them nearly as much

as you would
a mammal of the same size.

Insects offer so much promise.

They are a really accessible
form of protein that,

you know, potentially
could feed the world.

The numbers look great.

But can humanity really move
from farming pigs,

chickens, and cows

to farming insects?

If we are going to
feed billions,

the amount of
insect protein needed

will be enormous.

Over 90%
of insects consumed today

are foraged from the wild.

The palm weevil...

Probably the most popular
edible insect of all...

Is harvested from
rotting palm trunks.

But natural harvesting like this

could not be scaled
to feed billions.

It's local and it's free.

But really, the way to utilize
insects better as a food

is to help people farm them and
engage in insect agriculture.

Change is already happening.

In Thailand,

the last few decades
have seen a surge

in start-up insect farms,

led by entrepreneurs like
Thanaporn "Kaew" Sae Leaw.

We heard about insect farming

from our relatives.

They said it's something
you can do as a sideline,

without giving up your day job.

In this container,

I've got a batch
that are already 15 days old.

Here, let me show you.

In Thailand,
crickets have become

these new farmers'
insect of choice.

Because not only
does cricket farming

take up very little space,

but their rapid growth
allows farmers

to continually harvest

But there is still
a lot to learn.

The field of insect agriculture

is really in its infancy.

So learning to farm insects

at scale to feed lots of people,

we're just now
scratching the surface.

Farming insects

definitely comes
with unfamiliar new challenges.

Much of Thanaporn's time
is spent

keeping her ectothermic charges

at the correct temperature.

We've always got to keep
a close eye

on the weather.

Sometimes when it gets too hot,

we have to spray water
on the crickets

to cool them down.

And cattle farmers
don't have to deal with

the problem of cannibalism.


if there's not enough food,
they do start to eat each other.

That's one of the reasons

we have put in
these egg cartons...

It gives the vulnerable ones
somewhere to hide

from their voracious companions.

But it's worth the effort.

With low costs,

low maintenance,
and a quick turnover,

Thai farmers are
taking to the emerging industry

in the tens of thousands.

Most of the time,

there aren't enough
for us to eat.

We have all sold out.

And if the demand gets
any higher,

we might have to
expand the farm.


With healthy domestic demand
for these tasty snacks,

Thailand's insect farms
look set to grow.

But what about the U.S.?

How close is America
to being conquered by

the insect-eating bug?

Baltimore, Maryland.

Entomologist Mike Raupp
leads his Cicada Crew

on an insect hunt.

So you can see this
ancient pin oak tree.

This one's probably been here
maybe for 100 years.

Among the roots of the tree,
the soil seems alive.

Periodical cicadas
are returning to the surface,

the advance guard of "Brood X."

These insects have spent
nearly two decades alone

below ground.

But after 17 years,
it's time to breed.

They come out at dusk,

they climb the tree,
they try to escape their shells,

then get up to
the relative safety

of the treetop.

Where they mate in their

This happens nowhere else
on Earth

except right here
in the Eastern United States.

And this is the big brood.

This is what I was hoping for.

I'm just really impressed
by the density

that's in this neighborhood.

Brood X is so famous because

the numbers are phenomenal.

There can be up to 1.5 million
of them an acre,

coating every available surface.

Overloading the environment
is actually

their survival strategy.

Synchronizing a rare

17-year emergence allows them
to outlive some predators

and overwhelm the rest.

It guarantees their bizarre
strategy of predator satiation.

Filling the belly of every
predator that wants to eat them

and still having
enough left over

to perpetuate their species.


Not so long ago,

it wasn't just birds
and other small animals

that benefited.

These emerging broods

were once a nutritious windfall

for Indigenous communities.

When we think about our insects
consumed here in North America,

they were a traditional
part of many diets

of many different tribes.

We've lost
a lot of this history,

partially because of
the removal of these populations

from their native lands.

I know that Indigenous people
ate cicadas.

It was a bounty for them.

So from my interest
as an entomologist,

I certainly am going to snack on
just a few periodical cicadas.

For a dedicated entomologist,

eating a cicada
is a rite of passage.

We're just going to,
on the count of three,

we're going to go for it.

You guys ready?

Who's up?

We're all up?

Jessica, are you up?

I'm up.

All right, thumbs up.

One, two, three.


- Pretty sweet.
- What's the flavor?

What do you get?

Slight nuttiness.

It does taste like nut a lot...
I wasn't expecting that.

Oh, my God!

Mike encourages his
grad students

to experiment with this
insect bounty.

The idea is to, like,

spread the wings a little bit,

so they can, I don't know, like,

like, get crispy,

and then you're just eating
the abdomens over here.

That's what I'm thinking.

People eat raw oysters,

they eat raw clams...

Creatures that live at
the bottom of a bay

and filter you-know-what
out of the water.

Now, why wouldn't somebody
eat a periodical cicada

that's been sipping
plant sap for 17 years?

The roots of some Americans'

resistance to insect-eating
aren't hard to find.

This country's culinary
attitudes largely originate

from the prejudices of
Northern Europeans.

America was settled by
European colonists,

and the bulk of insect diversity
is really around the Equator.

It's not in England.

So, insects weren't
largely available.

The diets in these
northern latitudes tend to be

very meat-centric,
because that's what's available

to get you
through harsh winters.

Early colonists
noted that Native people

in parts of the United States

consumed insects.

But that was considered
to be an "other," I think.

That was something that
a different group of people ate.

And so I don't think it was
widely adopted.

Really good.

Hundreds of years later,

some think it's time to
move past this culinary bias.

If the global food industry
is going to reinvent itself,

many believe the change
must start here,

because wealthy countries like
the U.S. play a leading role

in setting global attitudes.

It's simply true that our
dietary preferences

are driving marketplaces
for food trade across the globe.

So I think if we can do
nothing else,

if we can change the perception
of insects as food in the West,

that would be a positive
step forward.

But that could be a challenge.

Many Americans aren't just
neutral towards bugs,

they're horrified by them.

In cultures without a history
of eating them,

insects are often associated
with decay and disease.

People often associate flies,
for example,

with things that are unclean,

or cockroaches with things
that are unclean.

And so nobody really is going
to think, "Oh, I...

That's going to be a good food
item," if you see something

crawling out of your, your
sewer drain.

Having disgust as your first

for something you're about
to eat,

that's a pretty bad first

This disgust response might look
like an instinctive reaction

to potential threat.

People generally can recognize
the disgust face very easily.

In one, the lower jaw drops
and the tongue is extended.

And another version,

it's just raising the upper lip,
closing the nose a little.

But it's associated
with the feeling of nausea.

And that, again, reminds us that

is originally about food,

because nausea
is a food rejection sensation

that gets us to stop eating.

But in reality,
compared to other livestock

like cows and pigs,

edible insects are unlikely
to carry pathogens

that are harmful to humans
because insect physiology

is so different from our own.

Psychologists are now finding
that disgust towards insects

is nothing more than a socially
acquired response.

Children are not born

with an innate distaste
for insects.

You know, in fact,
many young toddlers

would grab an insect, and
the first thing they would do

is put it towards their mouth.

There's no innate disgust.

It's almost entirely, I would
say, social conditioning.

Getting people to like insects
is part of a general problem

of getting people to like

So, if disgust is more nurture
than nature,

is it possible to get mainstream
America to love the bug?

New York chef Joseph Yoon
is a passionate advocate

for edible insects.

I'm not saying

that we can save the world
by eating insects,

but the idea that we can make
small lifestyle choices

that can positively impact
the environment

and future generations,

that's of great inspiration
and motivation to me.

Joseph has agreed to run
an experiment for "NOVA."

He's constructing a tasting menu
designed to see

if some New Yorkers could be
converted to insect eating

with a little creative cooking.

People tend to think in extremes
when it comes to edible insects.

They think of insects,
something that's gross,

and something that they don't
want to eat.

We need to redefine the idea
of edible insects

from the ground up.

And it's a matter of
shifting perceptions

from insects being gross

to show that they're delicious!

Here are some roasted crickets.

These are black ants
that have the formic acid

as a defense mechanism,
which gives it a citrusy flavor.

It's so incredible.

These are mealworms
that we have here.

These have a nutty, earthy,

umami flavor.

These are chipotle-flavored

These are wonderful,
just, snacks.

With ingredients like these,

Joseph's task is hard,
but not impossible.


Because America's
socially conditioned disgust

has been successfully reversed

Just consider your nearest
sushi counter.

50 years ago, sushi restaurants
were rare in the U.S.

Many Americans were squeamish

about eating uncooked fish.

It was disgusting...
raw fish was disgusting.

Then it, you know,
permeated the coasts.

You got it at a fancy restaurant
in New York

or San Francisco.

Now you can get sushi
at a gas station in Nebraska.

Food culture does change.

Some experts believe that
sushi's breakthrough in the U.S.

was thanks to the creation
of the California roll,

where the unfamiliar ingredients
are hidden by a rice exterior.

It's all about
clever psychology.

So could Joseph leverage
this same trick for insects?

While he prepares his menu,

the tasters arrive.

I'm pretty adventurous, yeah,
it's exciting, it's fun, yeah.

I'm nervous,
but also very excited.

I would consider myself a pretty
adventurous eater...

At least a nine out of ten.

I'm actually kind of excited!

Always willing to try
something new, and, you know,

push the boundaries.

♪ I like bugs with 16 legs
and bugs with lots of eyes ♪

♪ I like spiders that crawl
on the floor ♪

♪ And eat up all the flies ♪

A great strategy for trying
to convince people

to try edible insects is to
incorporate it into food

they already know and love.

To start off,

we have a blueberry
hopper muffin

with grasshoppers.

♪ I love bugs that live
in the mud ♪

We have azcayo
guacamole with black ants,

crickets, citrus,

chili peppers,
onions, and garlic.

♪ I like bugs ♪

And then we have
pizza cavalletta,

with a locust bolognese,

pecorino romano, and basil.

Bug appétit!

All right, here we go.

So what will the tasters think?


There's a really big one
in there.


Nice little crunch factor.

You definitely know it's...

not a fruit.

This one I'm nervous about.

Yeah, so that,
I can see the bugs.

I'm trying to get, like,
the least

intimidating bite.

So scary!

These really look like
little bugs, so...

Um, so that part
was a little rough.

It doesn't weird me out,
because I know that

it's prepared to be eaten,

But if I went probably
to a place by my house

and got guacamole
and found crickets in it,

I'd have an issue.



This one's a little iffy,
but I'm going to try it anyway.

I'm going to go for the big bug
right there.

I think this is a locust
right here.



I think the, the pizza masks

the, the taste of the bugs,

I didn't actually

taste much of the locust,
which is good.

I don't know if I would order
something, seeing something,

a big bug right there.

Maybe if it was not seen
as much?

If I think about what I ate,


Despite Joseph's skills,
the main courses have produced

a mixed reaction.

So, for dessert,
the chef goes one step further.

A delicious banana bread

with a vanilla buttercream


There's mealworm powder

in both the banana bread
and the frosting.

The psychological advantage

of using insect powder is that
you don't have to see it.


Joseph may have struck pay dirt
with the powdered insects.


That's delicious.

I feel like this one I'm

the least intimidated by,
because it is, um...

It's powder, so it's...
You don't see a physical bug.

You can't taste anything

than a normal banana bread.

I actually really like that,
that's awesome.

That's really delicious.

Perhaps insect powder is the
secret weapon to overcome

America's disgust.

Insect powder is so versatile.

You can add it
to your smoothies,

you can add it to soups,

you can add it to sauces.

You can add to your
mac and cheese sauce.

You can add it
to your fried rice.

You can add insect powder
to virtually any type of food.

Because of Americans' attitude
towards insects,

I think it's going to be
a really successful way

to introduce them
to insect protein.

I would probably finish this.

But there's a problem.

Pound for pound,

insect protein producers cannot

currently get close to
the prices charged

by their established
livestock rivals.

If prices stay as high
as they are,

consumers are unlikely
to make the switch.

But could science and technology
help close the gap?


Canadian Mohammed Ashour is an
insect farmer with big plans.

We are building
the world's densest,

smartest, and largest
commercial cricket production

and processing facility.

Insect agriculture has the
potential to radically transform

the way we produce food
around the world.

Mohammed runs a start-up company
that hopes to bring down

the costs of insect farming.

Their plan is based on research
from their R&D facility

in Austin, Texas,

aimed at cracking the code
of farming the cricket.


Chief operating officer

Gabe Mott manages the cricket
research project.

The high expense of insect
protein generally is

predominantly because it's
a novel industry.

We need to understand
the organisms as, as well as

we possibly can,

provide them exactly
what they need to thrive,

and then eventually, begin
selective breeding.

Cows, chickens, and pigs
have been selectively bred

as food for millennia.

In contrast, edible insects
remain much closer

to their wild origins.

The process of selective
breeding crickets

has really only just begun,

and there's a, a long way for us
to go.

The good news is,
we obviously can deal with

much larger herds,

crickets lay vastly more eggs,

their life cycle is shorter,

and we can take advantage

of modern, cutting-edge

We get to apply that from
day one, as opposed to centuries

into the breeding process.

But breeding alone
is not enough.

They're trying to figure out

the perfect environment
to make the crickets thrive.

They use ten different growing
rooms to allow

side-by-side comparisons
for different feed, temperature,

and lighting levels.

Hundreds of sensors keep the
environment under surveillance.

We observe the consequences
of manipulations

and changes
on the insect biology,

on their physiology, on their
health and well-being,

and then adapt and build on that

and adapt and build on that.

Aspire claims that due to
five years

of in-house research
and proprietary technology

they've created,
they've greatly increased

production efficiency and yield.

We saw these, these massive

We were able to shave weeks
off the life cycle time,

drastically improve

and develop an understanding
of the optimal density

for cricket colonies.

We now harvest ten times
the amount of crickets

from the exact same bin
that we did five years ago.


Even if that's true,
to compete commercially

with industrial
livestock producers,

insect farming would need
to scale up dramatically.

And this is where insects come
with a built-in advantage.

You can't put cattle into
a giant racking system.

They're not going to be happy.

Whereas insects are really

almost custom-made perfectly

for automation solutions
that exist already.

A robot can just wander around
whenever the time is appropriate

and deliver all the feed.

I know to the gram how much feed
is being fed,

and I know, effectively
to the second,

when that feed is being

They believe the combination
of higher yields

and intensive automation

may soon allow insect farming
to compete directly

with traditional livestock

Over the course
of the next decade,

insect protein will go from
being a really interesting

novel ingredient to being a
mainstream protein alternative.


Mohammed and Gabe are not the
only ones who see the potential.

Across the world,
many companies are figuring out

how to farm insects

If costs continue to drop,
cheap, nutritious

insect protein may soon

the global food supply system.


One of the many researchers
hoping to contribute to this

burgeoning industry
is entomologist Ebony Jenkins,

a doctoral student

at the University of Maryland
Eastern Shore.

With the market booming,
I believe that there are

going to be many opportunities.

This is going to open the doors
for a lot of people,

and we're going to be seeing

insect-based products soon
on our local shelves.

But Ebony did not grow up
loving bugs.

Five years ago,
I was deathly afraid of insects.

So I went from

running from them,
to chasing them, to eating them.

Now, that's revenge.

Her focus is on improving
insects as a source of nutrition

by modifying what they are fed.

One of my objectives is to
understand the optimization

of feed for various insects.


Every bug has a different

Mealworms like dried foods,
whereas crickets

like vegetables
and even animal protein.

But whether they are
herbivorous, carnivorous,

or omnivorous,

many insects can be highly
selective in what they eat.

They will choose foods
to naturally regulate

the nutrients they take in.

The trick for researchers
like Ebony is to create a diet

that insects will not only

choose to eat, but which
loads them with bonus nutrients.

You are what you eat.

So whatever they eat,
they're able to metabolize,

and we can benefit from those
items that are present

in their system.

So, for example,
if you add more calcium

or something like that
to their diet,

they're able to ingest that
and pass that on.

There's a lot more tinkering
that we could do to make sure

that these diets don't just

rear a bunch of insects,
but they actually rear insects

that have high nutritional

I think that just as pasta is,

just as bread
for your sandwich is,

it's a great vehicle to pass on
specific nutrients that we know

are needed for, for healthy

But beyond nutrients,

Ebony wants to investigate
the potential

of insect food
to deliver medicines.

Her focus is on CBD
from cannabis.

We are analyzing the crickets
to see how they metabolize

CBD for medicinal purposes.

We just added those drops
to the feed and mix it up,

and we're just going to let them
eat it,

and see what is the CBD doing
inside of the cricket.

I think it would be useful
to try and incorporate

medicinal products into insects,

but it would be interesting
to see

if it actually would work.

Insects certainly can retain
a lot of things

in their tissue.

It would be interesting to see

whether insects would
metabolize them

and, and chuck them,
or whether they would actually

be sequestered
in the body tissue.

I'm not sure.

Research is in its early days,

but Ebony's confidence is high.

Once we have the findings,

I believe that it's going
to take off,

because people want to know
how they can become healthier.

And if we can make people's
lives better, we did our job.


If Ebony is successful,

insects bred on the customized
food could one day treat

both your hunger
and your health.

While some insects
have discriminating tastes,

others will eat just about

And that could help tackle
another major problem:

food waste.


Each year, 1.8 billion tons of
food, worth approximately

$1.2 trillion, is left to rot.

But for some,

this toxic food dump
is a golden opportunity.

The term "waste" is, um, a myth.

This is just a really good
resource that we have yet

to learn how to utilize.


In the heart of London, England,

Keiran Olivares Whitaker

has a plan to turn rotting
food waste

into an economic
and environmental gold mine.


He's set up a company
that is putting insects

on the front line
of the ecological battle.

Like Mohammed and Gabe,
Keiran's initial focus

is on research.

But unlike them,
he's not breeding crickets.

This is the black soldier fly.

It could be the ultimate

These bugs don't sting,
don't damage crops,

and don't carry disease.

And their larvae have really
caught the eye

of prospective insect farmers

because there's something very
special about their stomachs.

They are the least fussy eaters.

They will eat almost anything.

Because they are a fly species,

the larva eats
the decaying matter,

so the things that are already
rotting or composting.

So, we're not restricted
to having to feed them on,

you know, fruit and vegetables,

or wheat.

We can use any type
of food waste

to feed black soldier flies.

Researchers have discovered
that the gut

of the black soldier fly larva
is filled with powerful enzymes.

These are super-efficient at
digesting rotting organic waste.

I think there's huge potential

to use insects
as waste recyclers.

It's kind of one of their
underexplored superpowers.

Some insects really do prefer

decaying matter.

They really do prefer
organic waste.

Why not harness the power
of these voracious insects?

Keiran's company, Entocycle,

is already experimenting

with a wide variety
of different food waste.

In this local area,

we're using brewery grain waste,
coffee waste,

fruit and vegetable waste
from the markets.

And, you know, these are all
fantastic inputs

to feed black soldier fly.

And once they've digested
the waste,

black soldier fly larvae become
the ultimate natural fast food.

They grow incredibly fast,

nearly 5,000 times
their body weight.

So it only takes nine to 12 days
to turn what is a grain of sand

into an inch-long protein bar.

And that's why they're
so fantastic.

From an environmental
point of view,

the speed of production
for black soldier fly

and the fact that they can eat

the widest range of input

mean that for me, they're just
simply the best insect

that we can farm.

The company plans to concentrate

on powder for
pet and animal feed.

But in some parts of the world,
black soldier fly protein

may soon be on the dinner table.

It's coming quicker
than people think.

The legislation for
black soldier flies for humans

in Europe is changing
as we speak.

I think you'll start seeing
black soldier fly-based products

entering the market
kind of in 2021 onwards.

On a scientific level,
I think it's terrific.

I think it makes a lot of sense.

I think it's probably economical
and it's probably better

for the planet in the long run.

I do feel a little bit squeamish
about it,

but I'd be game to try it.

If they were cooked well.


Many experts now believe

that the age of the insect meal
is upon us.


The unconstrained expansion
of livestock farming

still threatens widespread
ecological devastation.

But scientific and technological

progress in the field
of insect farming

mean edible bugs might provide
a way out.

There are still problems
to solve

and attitudes to overcome.

But ready or not,
insects could soon be back

on a lot more menus.

I don't recommend that we're
going to stop eating meat

altogether, and everybody's
all of a sudden

going to eat insects.

Instead, what we're trying to do
is expand our diets.

My hope is that anyone

who would be watching this

would at least take a moment

to think differently
about insects as food.

Because they are a totally
awesome, underexplored

food resource that has a ton of
potential to improve the world.

Oh, I love the idea
of eating insects.

I think it's a really good step
in the right direction.

Insects are really sustainable

and they taste great.

I mean, there's such a huge
variety of insects

that we're going to be able
to find some that we like.

People often ask, like,
"What's the best bug

or best dish to get people
to try it?"

There's no silver bullet.

I think diversity
is going to be key.


So what would the experts


Black soldier fly larvae.

They taste like macadamia nuts.

A little bit nutty, a little bit
oily... really quite nice.


Grasshoppers kind of taste like

They have this seafood quality
to them.

The cricket has, like,
a mild flavor.

It's not really overbearing.

It kind of reminds you of, like,
a Frito or a chip,

of something of that nature.

I think the best way I've ever
had them was mealworms

in garlic butter sauce...
Those were tasty.

It would be a dragonfly,
for sure,

because their, their thorax

is just muscle.

Get rid of the wings
and get rid of the abdomen,

and then go right for
the thorax.

It's meaty and it's, it's
really delicious.

What I would say to anyone
that's nervous is,

I'm right there with you still.

My favorite are the flying ants.

They taste like popcorn.

I mean, they're just, like,

and a little oily
and a little salty,

and, like, they're really

There is one all-time favorite,

hands down, no question,

and that is the cicada.

They have a little exoskeleton

and then they're full
of this meaty flesh.


This is kismet.

This is romance.

This is poetry.

It's music.

And it is gastronomy
in the highest form.


My least favorite insect that
I have tried is the sago worm.

I don't even want
to talk about it.