Can honey bee brood, a sustainable by-product of hive maintenance, pave the way for acceptance of insects as food in the western world?
According to the United Nations, the population of the earth could pass 9.5 billion by 2050, and 11 billion by 2100. What’s more, of the 7.3 billion people currently calling Earth home, “one billion are already starving, and another one billion people have nutrient deficiencies.”
It is clear that our current food systems aren’t meeting the caloric and nutritional needs of a large swath of humanity, and alternatives must be seriously examined if we hope to feed billions more. That’s where “entomophagy,” the practice of eating insects, comes in.
While Western cultures tend to view insects as primitive or “famine food,” the FAO estimates that insects form at least part of the traditional diet of over two billion people, and that more than 1900 insect species have been used as food. (The most commonly consumed insects around the world are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, and ants.)
Most edible insects are harvested in the wild, and farming insects for food is still a relatively new concept. Some insects, however, such as bees, have a long history of domestication. A recent paper in the Journal of Apicultural Research suggested that honey bee brood—the larvae and pupae of drones—has great potential as a food source.
“Insects hold enormous potential to address food and nutritional security issues. The honey bee is a key insect, given its importance for pollination, as well as its products which can be directly consumed, like honey, pollen, and brood,” the researchers wrote.
Honey bee brood is currently a by-product of regular hive maintenance. In parts of the world, drone brood removal is a bee-keeping strategy for managing the population of the varroa mite, a parasite that has been identified as a culprit in Colony Collapse Disorder.
Brood is valued for its “rich nutritional composition of proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals” and is already eaten in countries such as Mexico, China, and Thailand. It is described in the study as having a “nutty flavor with a crunchy texture when eaten cooked or dried, and is a versatile ingredient used in soups and egg dishes.”
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While there are advantages to brood farming (insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment), there are also hurdles to overcome before bee brood farming takes off, including developing better ways to harvest the fragile brood, meeting storage challenges, and ensuring food safety.
One of the authors of the Journal of Apiculture Research study, Annette Bruun Jensen, suggests that because honey bees and their products are already appreciated throughout the world, they can “pave the way for the acceptance of insects as a food in the western world.”
Time will tell.