Nutritional and sensory quality of edible insects
⁎, Anna Adámková
Department of Microbiology, Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Kamýcká 129, 165 21 Prague 6 ‐Suchdol,
Department of Quality of Agricultural Products, Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Kamýcká 129, 165 21 Prague 6 ‐Suchdol,
Received 2 J anuary 2016
Received in revised form 14 June 2016
Accepted 12 July 2016
Available online 16 July 2016
Insects arefor many nations and ethnic groups an indispensablepart of the diet. From a nutritional point of view,
insects have signiﬁcant protein content. It varies from 20 to 76% of dry matter depending on the type and devel-
opment stage of the insect. Fat content variability is large (2–50% of dry matter) and depends on many factors.
Total polyunsaturated fatty acids' content may be up to 70% of total fatty acids. Carbohydrates are represented
mainly by chitin, whose content ranges between 2.7 mg and 49.8 mg per kg of fresh matter. Some species of ed-
ible insects contain a reasonable amount of minerals (K, Na, Ca, Cu, Fe,Zn, Mn and P) as well as vitamins such as B
group vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, K, and C.However their contentis seasonal and dependent on the feed. From the
hygienic point of view it should be pointed out that some insects may produce or contain toxic bioactive com-
pounds. They may also contain residues of pesticides and heavy metals from the ecosystem. Adverse human al-
lergic reactions to edible insects could be also a possible hazard.
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH on behalf of Societyof Nutrition and Food Science e.V. This is an
open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
3.1. Energyvalue ........................................................... 23
3.2. Proteins.............................................................. 23
3.4. Fibre ............................................................... 24
3.5. Minerals ............................................................. 24
3.6. Vitamins ............................................................. 24
4. Sensoryqualityofedibleinsect ......................................................25
Conﬂictsofinterest .............................................................. 26
The term “entomophagy”(from the Greek words ἔντομον éntomon,
“insect”and φᾰγεῖνphagein,“to eat”) refers to the use of insects as
food: human insectivory . The eggs, larvae, pupae and adults of
insects were used in prehistoric times as food ingredients in humans,
and this trend has continued into modern times. Man was omnivorous
in early development and ate insects quite extensively. Before people
had tools for hunting or farming, insect constituted an important com-
ponent of the human diet. Moreover, people lived mainly in warm re-
gions, where different kinds of insects were available throughout the
year. Insects were often a welcome source of protein in the absence of
meat from vertebrates .
NFS Journal 4 (2016) 22–26
⁎Corresponding author. Tel.: +420 224383507.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (L. Kouřimská).
2352-3646/© 20 16 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH on behalf o f Society of Nutrition and Food Scie nce e.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/nfs-journal/
Evidence of eating insects in human history has been found from
analysis of fossils from caves in the USA and Mexico. For example,
coprolites from caves in Mexico included ants, beetle larvae, lice, ticks
and mites . The evidence of entomophagy was conﬁrmed using ana-
lytical techniques. Analysis of stable carbon isotopes showed that
Australopithecus bones and enamel were signiﬁcantly enriched in the
C. This suggests that the diet of these people was mostly
animals feeding on grasses, including insects . Another evidence is
from paintings in the Artamila caves in northern Spain (9000–
3000 BC.) . According to Lesnik  termites were included into the
Plio-Pleistocene hominin diet.
Nowadays human insect-eating is traditionally practised in 113
countries around the world. Over 2000 insect species are known to be
edible. Globally, the most frequently consumed species are beetles,
caterpillars, bees, wasps and ants. They are followed by grasshoppers,
locusts and crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers and bugs, termites, dragon-
ﬂies, ﬂies and other species . The largest consumption of insects is
in Africa, Asia and Latin America . In most European countries, the
human consumption of insects is very low and oftenculturally inappro-
priate or even taboo. The nutritional value of insects is comparable to
commonly eaten meats. Considering the growing population in the
world and the increasing demand for production of traditional beef,
pork and chicken meat, edible insects should be seriously considered
as a source of animal protein .
In terms of farming conditions the following insect species could be
bred and consumed in Europe: house cricket (Acheta domestica),
Jamaican ﬁeld cricket (Gryllus assimilis), African migratory locust
(Locusta migratoria), desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), yellow meal-
worm beetle (Tenebrio molitor), superworm (Zophobas morio), lesser
mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus) western honey bee (Apis mellifera)
and wax moth (Galleria mellonella).
2. Why eat insects?
Increasing population growth in the world increases demand for
protein sources but the amount of available farmland is limited. In
2050 the world population is estimated at more than 9 billion people,
resulting in an additional need for food of half the current needs.
Conventional protein sources may be insufﬁcient and we will have to
focus on alternative sources , which may be edible insects .In
Africa, Southeast Asia and the northern part of Latin America, this
large group of animals is a popular delicacy and an interesting assort-
ment of foodenrichment. For example in Mexico, chapulines (grasshop-
pers of the genus Sphenarium) are a frequent national dish together
with beef and beans .
Compared with livestock, breeding insects seems to be more envi-
ronmentally friendly because of lower greenhouse gas emissions,
water pollution and land use . Insects show higher feed conversion
efﬁciency (i.e. a measure of the animal's efﬁciency in converting feed
mass into body mass) in comparison with mammalian livestock.
Van Huis et al.  even stated the feed conversion of house cricket
(A. domestica) to be twice that of chickens, 4 times higher than in pigs
and more than 12 times higher than in cattle.
An interesting positive aspect of entomophagy is its help in reducing
pesticide use. Collection of edible insects considered as pests can con-
tribute to reduced use of insecticides. Furthermore, the economic bene-
ﬁts of collecting insects as compared with the cultivation of plants
should also be taken into account. In Mexico, collecting insects for
human consumptionresulted in a reduction in the quantity of pesticides
in agricultural crop production and a decreased ﬁnancial burden on
3. Nutritional value of edible insect
The nutritional value of edible insects is very diverse mainly because
of the large number and variability of species. Nutritional values can
vary considerably even within a group of insects depending on the
stage of metamorphosis, origin of the insect and its diet . Similarly
the nutritional value changes according to the preparation and process-
ing before consumption (drying, cooking, frying etc.) . According to
Payne et al.  insect nutritional composition showed high diversity
between species. The Nutrient Value Score of crickets, palm weevil lar-
vae and mealworm was signiﬁcantly healthier than in the case of beef
and chicken and none of six tested insects were statistically less healthy
than meat. Most edible insects provide sufﬁcient energy and proteins
intake in the human diet, as well as meeting the amino acid require-
ments. Insects also have a high content of mono- and polyunsaturated
fatty acids; they are rich in trace elements such as copper, iron,
magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, as well as
vitamins like riboﬂavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, and folic acid in some
3.1. Energy value
The energy value of edible insects depends on their composition,
mainly on the fat content. Larvae or pupae are usually richer in energy
compared to adults. Conversely high protein insect species have lower
energy content . Ramos-Elorduy et al.  analysed 78 kinds of in-
sects and calculated their caloriﬁc value in the range from 293 to
762 kcal per 100 g of dry matter. Table 1 shows the energy value of select-
ed species of edible insects, expressed in kcal per 100 g fresh weight .
Bednářová  examined the total protein content of seven species
of insects.Total protein content was relatively the same in all measured
types of insects except for the wax moth (G. mellonella) where the pro-
tein content (based on dry matter) was only 38.4%. The percentage of
other species ranged from 50.7% for yellow mealworm (T. molitor)to
62.2% for the African migratory locust (L. migratoria). Xiaoming et al.
 assessed protein content in 100 insect species. Protein content
was in the range of 13 to 77% by dry matter (Table 2), reﬂecting the
large variability of tested species. Eighty-seven species of edible insects
were investigated in Mexico, and the average protein content wasfrom
15% to 81%. Insect protein digestibility, which is 76 to 96%  was also
examinedin this study. These values are on average onlya little smaller
than values for egg protein (95%) or beef (98%) and even higher than in
the case of many plant proteins . Measured amounts of nitrogenous
substances of insects may be higher than their actual protein content
since some nitrogen is also bound in the exoskeleton .
Considering the amino acid composition of edible insects, they con-
tain a number of nutritionally valuable amino acids including high levels
of phenylalanine and tyrosine. Some insects contain large amounts of
lysine, tryptophan and threonine, which is deﬁcient in certain cereal
proteins. For example, in Angola the intake of these nutrients may be
supplemented by eating termites of the genus Macrotermes subhyalinus
. The native people of Papua New Guinea normally eat tubers, where
the content of lysine and leucine is low. The resulting nutritional gap
could therefore be compensated by the consumption of larvae of the
Rhynchophorus family beetle that have high amounts of lysine. On the
contrary tubers contain a high proportion of tryptophan, and aromatic
amino acids which are present in limited quantities in these larvae. Nu-
tritional intake of such a diet is therefore balanced [11,22]. Analysis of
almost a hundred edible insect species showed that the content of
essential amino acids represents 46–96% of the total amount of amino
Edible insects contain on average 10 to 60% of fat in dry matter
(Table 3). This is higher in the larvalstages than in adults .Caterpil-
lars belong among insects with the highest fat content. Tzompa-Sosa
23L. Kouřimská, A. Adámková / NFS Journal 4 (2016) 22–26
et al.  determined the total fat content in caterpillars (Lepidoptera)
from 8.6 to 15.2 g per 100 g of insects. In contrast, the fat content ranges
from 3.8 g to 5.3 g per 100 g of insects in grasshoppers and related
Fat is present in several forms in the insect. Triacylglycerols consti-
tute about 80% of fat. They serve as an energy reserve for periods of
high energy intensity, such as longer ﬂights. Phospholipids are the sec-
ond most important group. Their role in the structure of cell membranes
has been studied . The content of phospholipids in fat is usually
less than 20%, but it varies according to the life stage and insect species
There is a relatively high content of C18 fatty acids including oleic,
linoleic and linolenic acids in thefat of insects . Palmitic acid content
is also relatively high. Fatty acid proﬁle is affected by food, which the in-
sects feed upon .
Cholesterol is the most abundant sterol in insects. Ekpo et al. 
studied the content of cholesterol in the fat of the termite Macrotermes
bellicosus and the caterpillar Imbrasia belina, which are commonly
consumed in Nigeria. They found that the average cholesterol content
in the lipid fraction was 3.6%. Apart from cholesterol, campesterol,
stigmasterol, β-sitosterol and other sterols may bealso present in edible
Edible insects contain a signiﬁcant amount of ﬁbre. Insoluble chitin is
the most common form of ﬁbre in the body of insects contained mainly
in their exoskeleton . Chitin in commercially farmed insects ranged
from 2.7 to 49.8 mg per kg of fresh weight (from 11.6 to 137.2 mg per kg
of dry matter) . Chitin is considered as an indigestible ﬁbre, even
though the enzyme chitinase is found in human gastric juices .
However, it was found that this enzyme may be inactive. Active
chitinase response in the body prevails among people from tropical
countries where the consumption of insects has a long-term tradition
. Removal of chitin improves the digestibility of insect protein .
Chitin is also associated with the defence of the organisms against
some parasitic infections and allergic states . Lee et al.  reported
that chitin was antivirally active against tumorigenesis. Chitin and its
derivative chitosan have properties that could improve the immune re-
sponse of speciﬁc groups of people. They helped some individuals to be
more resistant against pathogenic bacteria and viruses. There are also
indications that chitin could reduce allergic reactions to certain individ-
uals [30,31]. Chitin of insect exoskeletons acts in the human body like
cellulose and because of this effect it is often called “animal ﬁbre”.
Bednářová et al.  analysed the amount of ﬁbre in 7 different species
of edible insects. The African migratory locust had the highest content,
while the Jamaican ﬁeld cricket contained the least ﬁbre (Table 4).
Edible insects can be interesting in terms of nutritional content of
minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus,
magnesium, manganese and copper . For example, the large cater-
pillar of the moth Gonimbrasia belina called mopani or mopane has a
high iron content (31–77 mg per 100 g of dry matter) and so does the
grasshopper L. migratoria (8–20 mg per 100 g of dry matter) . Cater-
pillars of mopane could be a good source of zinc (14 mg per 100 g of dry
matter) together with palm weevil larvae Rhynchophorus phoenicis
(26.5 mg per 100 g of dry matter) . On the other hand, the heavy
metal content of an edible grasshopper Oxya chinensis formosana deter-
mined by Hyun et al.  was low and safe for human consumption.
Insects contain a variety of water soluble or lipophilic vitamins [18,
19,36,37].Bukkens listed a variety of insects containing thiamine.
Its content ranges from 0.1 to 4 mg per 100 g of dry matter. Riboﬂavin
is represented in edible insects in amounts from 0.11 to 8.9 mg to
100 g. Vitamin B12 is found in abundance in larvae of the yellow meal-
worm beetle T. molitor (0.47 μg per 100 g) and the house cricket Acheta
domesticus (5.4 μg per 100 g in adults, 8.7 μg per 100 g in nymphs).
However, many otherspecies that have been analysed containonly neg-
ligible amounts of this vitamin [22,36].
Retinol and β-carotene were detected in some butterﬂycaterpil-
lars, such as the species Imbrasia oyemensis,Nudaurelia oyemensis,
Ichthyodes truncata and Imbrasia epimethea containing 32–48 μgof
Energy value of edible insect.
Source: van Huis et al. .
English name Latin name Stage Locality En. value (kcal/100 g)
Australian plague locust Chortoicetes terminifera Adult Australia 499
Weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina Adult Australia 1272
Yellow mealworm beetle Tenebrio molitor Larva USA 206
Yellow mealworm beetle Tenebrio molitor Adult USA 138
Mexican leafcutting ant Atta mexicana Adult Mexico 404
Two-spotted cricket Gryllus bimaculatus Adult Thailand 120
Japanese grasshopper Oxya japonica Adult Thailand 149
Brown-spotted locust Cyrtacanthacris tatarica Adult Thailand 89
Silkworm Bombyx mori Pupa Thailand 94
African migratory locust Locusta migratoria Adult Netherlands 179
Protein content in 100 insect species.
Source: Xiaoming et al. .
Latin name Stage Protein content
(% in dry matter)
Beetles Coleoptera Adults and larvae 23–66
Butterﬂies Lepidoptera Pupae and larvae 14–68
Hemipterans Hemiptera Adults and larvae 42–74
Homopterans Homoptera Adults, larvae and eggs 45–57
Hymenopterans Hymenoptera Adult, pupae, larvae and eggs 13–77
Dragonﬂies Odonata Adults and naiads 46–65
Orthopterans Orthoptera Adults and nymphs 23–65
Fat content in dry matter of edible insects.
Source: Bednářová .
English name Latin name Stage Fat content
(% in dry matter)
Silkworm Bombyx mori Pupa 29
Western honey bee Apis melifera Brood 31
African migratory locust Locusta migratoria Nymph 13
Wax moth Galleria mellonella Caterpillar 57
Jamaican ﬁeld cricket Gryllus assimilis Nymph 34
Yellow mealworm Tenebrio molitor Larva 36
Giant mealworm Zophobas atratus Larva 40
24 L. Kouřimská, A. Adámková / NFS Journal 4 (2016) 22–26
retinol and 6.8–8.2 μgofβ-carotene per 100 g of dry matter. The level
of retinol per 100 g of dry matter was less than 20 μg and the level of
β-carotene was less than 100 μg in the case of yellow mealworms
T. molitor,superwormsZ. morio and house crickets A. domesticus
[22,36,38]. According to Finke  several species of lepidopteran
larvae and the soldiers of one species of termites (Nasutitermes
corniger) contain signiﬁcant quantities of preformed vitamin A (ret-
inol), but in general, insects do not appear to contain much
preformed vitamin A.
Vitamin E was found in the larvae of the red palm weevil
Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, which have on average 35 mg of α-
tocopherol and 9 mg of tocopherols β+γper 100 g of dry matter
. The silkworm Bombyx mori contained 9.65 mg of tocopherols per
100 g of dry matter . Escamoles and eggs of the Formicidae
family could serve as a good source of vitamins A, D and E. They
contained 505 μg/100 g of retinol, 3.31 μg/100 g of cholecalciferol and
2.22 mg/100 g of alpha-tocopherol . According to Rumpold and
Schlüter , insects are generally rich in riboﬂavin, pantothenic acid,
and biotin. On the other hand, they are not an efﬁcient source of vitamin
A, vitamin C, niacin, and in most cases thiamin. Oonocx and Dierenfeld
 also reported that the vitamin E content was low for most analysed
insect species (6–16 mg/kg DM), except for Dorsophila melanogaster
and Microcentrum rhombifolium (112 and 110 mg/kg DM). The retinol
content, as a measure of vitamin A activity, was low in all specimens,
but varied greatly among samples (0.670–886 mg/kg DM). It should
be noted that the content of vitamins and minerals in wild edible insects
is seasonal and in the case of farm bred species it can be controlled
4. Sensory quality of edible insect
In many countries of the world insects are consumed alive immedi-
ately after being caught. In the case of further processing, the best meth-
od for their humane killing is scalding by hot water after starvation for
1–3 days . Other subsequent culinary processing may be cooking,
baking, frying or drying. Larvae of the yellow mealworm, smaller larvae
of mealworms and migratory locusts belong to the three most common
types of insects offered in special stores where edible insects are bred
and processed for human consumption [11,32,41].
Sensory properties are important criteria accompanying the con-
sumption of edible insects. Taste and ﬂavour of insects are very diverse
(Table 5). Flavour is mainly affected by pheromones occurring at the
surface of the insect organism . It also depends on the environment
where insects live and the feed that they eat. Selection of feed can also
be adapted depending on how we wish insects to taste. If insects are
scalded, they are practically tasteless, because pheromones are washed
off by rinsing. During cooking insects take the ﬂavour of added
The exoskeleton of insects has a great inﬂuence on the texture. In-
sects are crunchy and sounds accompanying their eating resemble the
sounds of crackers or pretzels .Pupae,larvae(caterpillars)and
nymphs are the most consumed stages of edible insects as they contain
a minimal amount of chitin. Therefore, they are not so crispy during
their consumption and are more digestible for the human body. The
vast majority of insects is almost odour-free due to the exoskeleton
. A pleasing colour does not always indicate that an insect is deli-
cious. During cooking, the insect's colour usually changes from the orig-
inal shades of grey, blue or green to red . Insects containing a
considerable amount of oxidized fat, or improperly dried insects, may
be black. Properly dried insects are golden or brown and can be easily
crushed by the ﬁngers .
5. Risks of insects eating
Eating insects could pose certain risks that must be taken into ac-
count. The risk proﬁle related to theconsumption of insects has been re-
cently published by the EFSA . A large collection of insects in the wild
could pose serious interference to the landscape ecosystem. Therefore,
it is recommended to consume insects reared at farms in controlled
and deﬁned conditions. The subsequent health safety of edible insects
is thus ensured by the choice of appropriate and safe feed. The results
of analyses carried out in the years 2003–2010 has shown possible
risks of eating insects fed by bran containing a higher concentration of
heavy metals . It is not recommended to consume insects fed by
an inappropriate diet, for example by organic wastes. On the other
hand, Fontenot  concluded that with good management, animal
wastes can be used safely as animal feed for insect protein synthesis.
Some insects can also contain naturally present toxic substances
such as cyanogenic glycosides . According to Vijver et al. 
T. molitor larval body concentrations of Cd and Pb correlated also to
the total metal pool of the soil in which the insects lived.
Other possible risks of consuming edible insects are eating inappro-
priate developmental stages of insects, poor handling and culinary
treatment. According to Bouvier  consumption of grasshoppers
and locusts without removing their feet can lead to intestinal blockage,
which couldhave fatal consequences. Eating insects can also cause aller-
gies. Some insects have a rigid external covering for the body formed of
chitin, which is difﬁcult to digest for humans. Today, due to the lack of
food containing chitin there is a deﬁciency of the enzyme chitinase
which cleaves chitin. Some individuals have such a small amount of
this enzyme that the eating of insects can cause an allergic reaction to
them . People most at risk are those who are allergic to seafood,
such as shrimp .
It is also important to consider the risk of transmission of infectious
diseases from some insect species. Intestinal microbiota of insects could
be a suitable medium for the growth of undesirable microorganisms.
Klunder et al.  evaluated the microbial content of fresh, processed
and stored edible insects T. molitor,A. domesticus and Brachytrupes.
The resultsshowed that various types of Enterobacteriaceae and sporu-
lating bacteria can be identiﬁed and subsequently isolated from raw in-
sects entering them most likely during contact with the soil .If
proper fasting, heat treatment and appropriate storage conditions are
Neutral-detergent ﬁbre content (cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin) in the dry matter of
Source: Bednářová .
English name Latin name Stage Fibre content
(% in dry matter)
Silkworm Bombyx mori Pupa 14
Western honey bee Apis melifera Brood 11
African migratory locust Locusta migratoria Nymph 27
Wax moth Galleria mellonella Caterpil lar 21
Jamaican ﬁeld cricket Gryllus assimilis Nymph 8
Yellow mealworm Tenebrio molitor Larva 18
Giant mealworm Zophobas atratus Larva 17
Taste and ﬂavour of selected edible insect species.
Source: Ramos-Elorduy .
Edible insect Taste and ﬂavour
Ants, termites Sweet, almost nutty
Larvae of darkling beetles Wholemeal bread
Larvae of wood-destroying beetles Fatty brisket with skin
Dragonﬂy larvae and other aquatic insects Fish
Striped shield bugs Apples
Wasps Pine seeds
Caterpillars of smoky wainscots Raw corn
Mealybugs Fried potatoes
Eggs of water boatman Caviar
Caterpillars of erebid moths Herring
25L. Kouřimská, A. Adámková / NFS Journal 4 (2016) 22–26
not assured edible insects may become dangerous from a microbiolog-
ical point of view [10,48].
Insects are a nutritionally interesting material, and may be included
among the common diet of consumers in EU countries in the future.
They could also be used as a nutritional supplement for special diets
for example for athletes. Inclusion of potentially suitable species of in-
sects into the normal diet requires deﬁned and standardized conditions
of their rearing as well as the detailed monitoring of their composition
including biologically active substances. Though the EFSA has already
assessed hygienic and toxicological risks related to edible insects,
more research on their composition and nutrient proﬁle should be
carried out in order to be able to fully implement edible insects as
food into the EU legislation documents.
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