Don't make a meal out of insects

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Anyone for beetle dip, ant tacos, cricket fried rice? No? That doesn't surprise researchers from the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS).

Their blunt advice to those worried about dwindling food supplies is simple. Don't make a meal of the insect ingredients - you'll just put people off. Instead, simply produce brilliant dishes that no one can resist and let the tastes do the talking.

‘Most of the insects eaten in the world are picked up locally and added to complex or interesting preparations, which make them a true competitor to other food choices’, explains Dr Ophelia Deroy, researcher at SAS’s Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes) and author of a report on the subject. ‘Insects are not eaten out of necessity, but for their desirable taste properties: this obvious fact is seemingly missed by most of the current research and policies.’ 

The report, ‘The insectivore’s dilemma, and how to take the West out of it’ is written in association with Ben Reade, former head of culinary research and development at the renowned Nordic Food Lab, and Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychologist at Oxford University. It is based on an exhaustive survey of all the recent research done on eating insects, and reveals everything that is wrong with the thinking that people will buy a packet of grilled crickets, or bread made with insect flour as healthy snacks or to save the planet. Public policies treating 'insects' as a general category and thinking that people will be convinced by arguments, are heading the wrong way.

While some people want to believe that a negative attitude toward insects in general is the main obstacle to regarding them as a tasty meal, Dr Deroy and her collaborators disagree. They stress that the revulsion felt toward insects as food is more nuanced and more of a question of taste. According to their theory, flavour and the smells will sell the proposition.
The research also suggests people are less likely to be disgusted by bees than crickets, and that trying to compete with existing crispy snacks is not a good way to develop people’s trust and interest. Instead, it advocates overcoming people's neophobia (the reluctance to try new foods, which is frequent in children), by starting with the most familiar example of the new food category, and not with the most difficult. Another key, says the report, is to make the dishes visually attractive and rewarding to eat and share with others, which Dr Deroy says ‘crosses three different perspectives in the human, culinary, and experimental sciences.’

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Notes for editors:
1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 / Maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk. Images available on request.

2. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015. It was officially opened on 15 March 1995, by Sir Anthony Kenny as a federation of the University of London’s research institutes and, since then, has established itself as the UK’s national humanities hub, publicly funded to support and promote research in the humanities nationally and internationally. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2013-14, SAS: welcomed 743 research fellows and associates; held 2,081 research dissemination events; received 26.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 202,891 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. A series of anniversary events and activities will take place throughout 2015. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

3. The Centre for the Study of the Senses, or CenSes, is hosted by the Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The Centre pioneers collaborative sensory research across disciplines, drawing on the work of philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists and anthropologists, connecting groups of researchers from different fields and sectors who can benefit from one another’s results. In 2013, it received a large grant from the AHRC to develop a new interdisciplinary laboratory. Find out more at http://philosophy.sas.ac.uk/centres/censes.

4. The Institute of Philosophy was founded in 2005, building upon and developing the work of the Philosophy Programme from 1995–2005. The Institute’s mission is to promote and support philosophy of the highest quality in all its forms, both inside and outside the University, and across the UK. Its activities divide into three kinds: events, fellowships and research facilitation. The Institute of Philosophy is a member institute of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. philosophy.sas.ac.uk.