Edible insects in season

Edible insects in season

Agribusiness
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Niche farmer harvests 20,000 crickets a day for food scene

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Rebel Food Tasmania founder Louise Morris tending to her cricket and mealworm herds that are bred for human consumption. Picture: Phil Biggs

Rebel Food Tasmania founder Louise Morris tending to her cricket and mealworm herds that are bred for human consumption. Picture: Phil Biggs

Summer is peak harvest season for Rebel Food Tasmania, a niche producer at Derby breeding insects for human consumption.

The micro-herd farm specialises in crickets (achetta domesticus) and mealworm (tenebro molitor) and is currently harvesting around 20,000 insects a day to service both top end restaurants and Hobart's premium food event The Taste of Tasmania.

Crickets are being served to diners as toppings for tacos and in specially-made crackers, while Rebel Food Tasmania is now selling cricket nut butters described as a "great tasting first entomophagy experience".

While two billion people across the world already eat insects, Western society is starting to seriously consider these protein-packed critters as a serious food source.

Mexico, for instance, includes more than 200 species of insects in their diet, Thailand has over 200,000 edible insect farms in operation, and the United Nations believes the insect industry could be worth $1.5 billion by 2023.

The UN further states that edible insects are high in quality protein and yet need less feed than cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens to produce the same level of protein.

These international eating habits and global recognition are now guiding Australian organisations such as the CSIRO to conduct research into edible insects.

They have partnered with the Australian National Insect Collection to identify the best Australian species for a future edible insect industry, and in 2019 it hosted an international symposium to guide development of the industry, raising insects as a possible solution to food security and sustainability concerns.

Smaller food producers like Rebel Food Tasmania are also paving the way for future growth, already farming introduced insect species approved by the Tasmanian biosecurity regulator.

For its founder Louise Morris, the environment is a key feature in her enterprise.

She breeds and produces the insects with minimal evironmental impact while also assisting food waste issues by collecting quality food scraps and grain leftovers from local cafes, breweries and wineries to feed her micro herds.

"What really, really excites me is [how we are] bringing this very different approach to farming and food," she said.

"How can we really work our food systems so that we are creating a high value product from what is considered food waste, and at the same time provide an extra tool for cafes and breweries to offload that waste that used to cost them money to get rid of?"

Ms Morris' insects are bred and matured in temperature controlled shipping containers powered by renewable energy, separated by species and age groups, each require slightly different temperatures and humidity levels.

Solar passive systems keep temperatures around the required 28 degree celcius mark, LED lights ensure the insects get adequate vitamin D, and when it is super dry or super cold, basic humidifiers are switched on.

Temperature also controls the harvest.

"Crickets and mealworms are ectothermic so their activity is regulated by temperature. When the temperature drops they go into a slight state of dormancy," she said.

"We shake them out into harvest bags and then for the actual process of killing we put them into the freezer where they drop dead. We wash them and within three hours they are bagged up and normally delivered within 48 hours of harvest to our restaurants."

Crickets have a light, subtle flavour, slightly sweet if cooked gently and lightly... it is like a small prawn. - Rebel Food Tasmania

She said her higher-quality insect feeding regime produced a higher-end product.

"The quality of the insect's life and the quality of what they eat really influences their nutritional values," she said.

These include protein, fibre, calcium, pottasium, iron, zinc, magnesium, A and B group vitamins including Vitamin B12, and other antioxidants.

"There is a huge cultural block towards insects in certain parts of the Australian community but like any new food, whether it was sushi in the eighties or crayfish, which used to be fed to prisoners, it is about changing food culture," Ms Morris said.

"I'm very pointedly treating insects as a premium ingredient, targeting people who are treating it as something that tastes good on its own, and not just burying it in other things."

Crickets, she said, have a subtle, slightly sweet flavour, and should be cooked gently and lightly like a prawn.

"Functionally they are shellfish and should be treated like a shellfish ... people always tend to deep fry the hell out of them, or overcook and burn them in their first cooking experiments, but as they get used to them they realise that less is more."

Ms Morris has also founded the Insect Protein Association of Australia, and its members include businesses selling cricket energy bars, whole roasted cricket snacks, cricket flour or bug biscuit treats for pets.

There is a huge cultural block towards insects in certain parts of the Australian community but ... it is about changing food culture.

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