A British study shows that the disgust factor must be overcome if insect eating is to truly become mainstream

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New research will be presented this year European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice, Italy (12-15 May) notes that insect-based food remains unappealing in Britain, and that more needs to be done to change attitudes towards and willingness to consume insects, as a potential route to more sustainable food production that could reduce the carbon footprint of UK consumers.

Food production is responsible for a quarter of all human greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock is a major contributor to these emissions, and researchers and policymakers are trying to develop and promote more sustainable ways to produce protein. One option receiving attention is raising and eating insects, such as crickets, flies and worms, because of their potential nutritional and environmental benefits over other protein sources.

“Insects are a potentially rich source of protein and micronutrients and could provide a solution to the double burden of obesity and malnutrition,” said lead author Dr. Lauren McGale from Edge Hill University, UK. “Some insect proteins, such as ground crickets or freeze-dried mealworms, are cheaper and easier to grow, often contain less fat and have a lower environmental impact than traditional livestock.”

Despite these benefits, people in Western countries rarely eat insects, and many people are disgusted by the thought of insect-based food. Nevertheless, people like to eat lobster or crayfish, despite their insect-like appearance, so it is possible that attitudes are changing.

To identify factors that may influence willingness to consume insects and to determine existing experiences with insect-based foods in Britain, researchers conducted an online survey of 603 British adults between 2019 and 2020 ( mean age 34 years; 76% female), recruited using the Prolific recruitment platform: a large database of people from across the UK who have agreed to participate in research.

The survey asked participants about their demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity and education level) and socio-economic status, as well as their level of environmental concern.

Respondents were also asked to complete a Food Disgust Scale to measure how disgusting they find certain food-related situations, to determine their individual sensitivity to food disgust. For example, participants are asked to rate their disgust for less commonly eaten parts of animals (such as organs, jaws, etc.), or their disgust response to food that is moldy or has fallen on the ground.

They were also asked questions about expected taste/sensory perceptions, such as how sweet, savory, crunchy or slimy they expected insects to be in general, and their willingness to consume insects regularly.

The research found that perceptions about the taste or sensory qualities of insects were generally not favorable, with participants tending to rate them lower on visual or olfactory appeal, and anticipating lower levels of pleasure, taste or sweetness, and higher levels of flavor, saltiness, and bitterness.

Overall, only 13% of respondents said they would be willing to consume insects regularly, compared to 47% who said they wouldn’t, and 40% who said maybe or that they weren’t sure.

Younger respondents were less open to regularly consuming insects, with each year younger people associated with a 2% increase in the “no” response when asked if they would be willing to consume insects regularly.

Furthermore, levels of general food disgust predicted openness to consuming insects, with each point increase on the Food Disgust Scale predicting a 4% increase in saying “no” to consuming insects.

Interestingly, disgust ratings were significantly higher for powdered insects than for whole insects. However, respondents’ willingness to consume insects was also significantly higher for powdered insects than for whole insects, despite higher levels of disgust.

“The disgust factor associated with eating whole insects could be overcome by including insect meal in processed foods. In other parts of the world, this has been done successfully with rice products enriched with cricket or locust meal,” says co-author Dr. Maxine Sharps from De Montfort University, UK.

“But if insects are to become a mainstream part of the Western diet, the disgust factor is one of the key challenges to overcome. Ultimately, there may be no choice left due to climate change and projected global population growth.”

Presented by the European Association for the Study of Obesity

Quote: Research in Britain shows ‘disgust factor’ must be overcome if insect eating is to truly become mainstream (2024, May 13) retrieved May 13, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05 -uk-survey-disgust -factor-insects.html

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