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Cricket burger, a pioneering bet in Belgium

A year after the European Union took a step further in the acceptance of insects as food, the western consumer has not yet crossed the psychological barrier to make a hole in their plate , a pioneering bet in Belgium, the first European country to explore its food potential.

In 2013, Belgium made its way into the market by authorizing a list of 10 insects for human consumption , five years before the EU gave the green light to a new policy to expedite the authorizations of new foods, still proof of European palates.

One of the promoters of this initiative is Maïté Mercier, creator of "Little Food", the first urban farm in Brussels of breeding and cricket production, which is also responsible for its transformation to turn them into appetizers, crackers or spreads.

"The idea was to find a 'green' protein for consumers sensitive to the environment and the nutritional aspects of food, and propose an alternative to meat that provides diversification to their dishes," explains the bioengineer.

In the future, he says, he hopes to launch a cricket burger, which he has already produced on a small scale, although he admits that it is "too early", because more awareness is needed to expand the niche market and the potential of this small company, even financed with own funds and with an approximate turnover of 200,000 euros per year.

Aware that in Europe many consumers are not willing to eat the whole insect - it is marketed toasted or spiced with spices - this factory has now launched to produce a flour that can serve as an ingredient for bread, cookies, cakes, or as a condiment for salads and smoothies.

Already in 2013, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recalled that insects are part of the diet of at least 2 billion people , as well as their potential as food and feed in a context of concern for the increase of food necessary to supply the population in the future.

"During my studies I saw that we had a sanitary and ecological problem regarding the consumption of meat. I thought of algae and insects as an alternative but I think the latter fit better into our culinary culture and are more interesting at the taste level, "explains Mercier.

According to the FAO, in 112 countries insects are consumed, and some like Thailand have developed an entire industry around them, while in Mexico grasshoppers are part of popular consumption; however, Belgium, Austria, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, outside the EU, Switzerland are exceptions in Europe.

In Spain , only the consumption of insects produced in some foreign countries, including Belgium, is allowed.

Of the almost two tons of roasted or processed crickets that "Little Food" produces, 80% goes to the national market and the rest to the foreigner, a part to the Spanish linear.

For now, this market is practically restricted to stores selling organic products.

Mercier argues that, "unknowingly", the European consumer has already included the insect in their diet, through substances such as red dye extracted from the cochineal (E-120) popular for the manufacture of jellybeans, desserts or fish substitutes , a resource also used in cosmetics.

"Culturally we have no habit but we already have a lot of ties with the insect. We eat honey, which produces an insect, and crustaceans such as prawns or crab are from the same family. The crickets are the prawns of the earth, "he says.

FAO lists more than 1,600 species of edible insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, silk worms and water cockroaches.

However, Mercier says that many countries are blocking the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has been still cautious in its analysis of the potential of insects at the table and expect to pass a European legislation that directly authorizes its production and consumption.

The defenders of this trend consider that it is a "superfood" because of its high content of proteins, vitamins and minerals and they also accept that to produce them, less water and energy are consumed, a path still to be explored in the EU.

Publicado: 20 01 2019

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