Insect Cuisine Takes the Stage in Tokyo

With all the talk in our food and agriculture world of alternative proteins and the potential of insect protein, this month’s Insect Experience Day was not something we could miss. The event was hosted by The Finnish Institute in Japan and Nishiogi Place to highlight the intersection of science, art and food and featured the tasting and experiencing of… bugs. On display were a great mixture of locally produced and imported snacks and drinks that all had some variety of insect as a key ingredient. The event also featured panels and discussions highlighting the nutritional benefits of different insects for humans.

The value of the global edible insect market is skyrocketing and is expected to reach at least $1.3 billion by 2025. While the vast majority of this insect protein production is for the animal feed market, insect protein for human foods has garnered some buzz as a niche eco-friendly ingredient in products sold in North America, EU, South America and other countries. In Japan, however, the trend is still at an early stage.

Some of the showcased products included locally produced Cricket rice cracker snacks made from Japanese brown rice and cricket-based ingredients from Canada. Another local product was Tagame Cider – a type of soda with lethocerus (giant water bug) extract that contributed to the fruity taste of the beverage.

While insects are a popular and traditional snack in many parts of Asia and have a tradition in Japan as well,  insect products are rarely found at modern Japanese retailers. Insect Experience Day was a step towards increasing consumers’ awareness of insects as a food ingredient and encouraging curiosity about these high-protein, nutritionally-rich creatures that appeared to horrify some visitors and be palatable to others.

Other mouthwatering buggy products included cricket chocolate (delicious, our team reported), Bug Bites (a cricket protein snack from Finland) and locally produced jars of locust hornet larva.

Ever wonder what the most delicious insect to humans might be? According to expert Shoichi Uchiyama, it is the larva of the long-horned beetle, which tastes like fatty tuna. This is not to be confused with the common beetle which is not tasty at all! Can we eat cockroaches? Yes, totally fine if you are ok with the unpleasant smell…  According to Uchiyama, who has written an insect recipe book and runs the website Konchu Ryori Kenkyu (Bug-eating Recipe Studies), the taste of insects changes depending on what they have eaten.

Not your usual pepperoncino pasta: bug cuisine advocate and chef Shoichi Unchiyama demonstrated how insects, such as giant meal worms, can be used as meat substitutes in well-known dishes like spaghetti pepperoncino.

Dr. Aikawa from Japan’s scientific research center RIKEN explained why insects are considered the ideal future protein source: insect production uses fewer resources, less feed and has a lower environmental impact than other protein sources. With protein demand expected to increase 1.4 times by 2050, there is likely to be pressure on meat protein sources – insect protein may be able to help fill this demand. While insect consumption is common in many, if not most, parts of the world, many modern consumers are unwilling to eat bugs. Insect marketers still face a significant hurdle to convince consumers to put bugs on their plate. Nevertheless Insect Experience Day may have succeeded in converting some of visitors to the potential of insect cuisine and insect protein.