On the menu: Joensuu researchers make grasshoppers more nutritious for humans

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Fried Ruspolia differens grasshoppers with salt & onion, Kampala market / Credit: Vilma Lehtovaara, University of Eastern Finland

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland have figured out how to make a species of grasshopper – commonly used in parts of Africa as an important food source – more nutritious for humans.

Although it’s only now becoming trendy (and legal) to include edible insects in the food production chain in Finland and some other EU countries, more than 2000 different insect species are known to be eaten by humans in different parts of the world.

Edible insects are one potential solution to global food security problems, since their production requires less space and water than meat production, costs less money to start farming insects, and has lower greenhouse emissions.

However, scientists wanted to find ways to boost the potential of some commonly consumed insects as a sour of food.

“Our research has focused on the use of Ruspolia differens” – a bush cricket or long-horned grasshopper – “in Uganda, Africa” says researcher Vilma Lehtovaara from the University of Eastern Finland who cooperated with researchers at Makerere University in Uganda.

The insects, she explains, are vital for food security especially in rural areas and often supplement people’s diets and are consumed as snacks.

However, since the insects only swarm twice per year their yields as a food crop are highly unpredictable and with grasslands diminishing through changing land use the supply of grasshoppers is no longer guaranteed.

The researchers wanted to study ways to mass rear the insects, to see how they live in the wild and if those conditions could be mimicked in a lab – and whether they would accept other food than what they’re used to in the wild.

Lehtovaara and her colleagues discovered that it is possible to change the type of food the insects eat, making their fatty acid composition optimal for human consumption.

“This is actually similar to what is being done with reared salmon. The same works in insects, but it is much more efficient” she says.

Uncooked grasshoppers on sale at a market in Kampala, Uganda / Credit: Vilma Lehtovaara, University of Eastern Finland

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