From the locust to the Goliath Beetle, insects of many kinds are a regular part of people’s diets in many parts of the world, including Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and multiple African nations. In Western cultures, folks are far less excited about the prospect of eating bugs, though that is slowly changing. Just this week, the bugs-as-protein got another boost when Paris-based Ÿnsect announced it will enter the market for human food following a positive assessment of mealworms from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Up to now, Ÿnsect has historically always farmed insects to use as fish and pet food as well as fertilizer. Specifically, the company focuses on Molitor larvae, also known as the mealworm. Mealworms are the larvae form of the darkling beetle, and this week, the EFSA officially declared them fit for human consumption “under the procedures required by the European Union regarding new food legislation,” according to Ÿnsect’s press release.
“This is a recognition that mealworm ingredients are premium products as they are uniquely ‘food grade’ compared to other insects used only in animal feed,” the company said.
For Ÿnsect, that means a move towards farming mealworms for human consumption, especially as part of sports and nutrition edibles. Before any food businesses in Europe can enter the market, it must first file a Novel Food application and get it approved. Ÿnsect said this week it has already done so, and also plans to file a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) request in the U.S. “in the coming months.”
In Western countries, at least, there’s a well-documented “ick” factor when it comes to eating insects, Squirmy, slimy bits that they are, mealworms might require even more effort on the part of edible insect startups when it comes to helping consumers overcome their doubts. (We had our own heated discussion about mealworms last year on a weekly Spoon podcast.)
That said, our food has more insect parts than one might think, since it is “impossible” to completely remove all insects when harvesting and processing certain crops. Because of that, the USDA actually already permits a certain amount of insects or their parts in foods. In other words, Ÿnsect will in all likelihood receive GRAS for its mealworms once it files in the U.S.
In Europe, the company will compete with multiple others in bringing Molitor larvae to the masses. Notable among those is Sweden-based startup Tebrito, which raised €800,000 at the end of 2020 to scale up production of its nutrient-rich powder made from mealworms. And in Finland, EntoCube grows insects for human consumption. Outside Europe, Beobia has an at-home countertop device for growing mealworms in your own kitchen, should you so desire.
The EFSA’s recognition isn’t quite final: the favorable assessment has to be confirmed by European Commission’s Health Directorate General, which will give final market authorization for the European Union.