Are bugs the next sushi? Insect meat will be $8-billion business soon, report says

Watch out, California rolls.

A new report from the British investment bank Barclays predicts that edible insects are poised to be one of the next big food trends in the West, much like raw fish before it — and the insect protein business could be worth $8 billion worldwide by 2030, Business Insider reports.

“[O]nce considered a weird and whacky food, part of sushi’s transformation into the mainstream was helped by it trickling down from top-end restaurants through to the supermarket shelves,” the report said, according to Business Insider. “We are starting to see this with insects as well, with insect-based restaurants such as Grub Kitchen in the UK and The Black Ant in New York.”

The sushi comparison might be an apt one: Researchers from Australia’s La Trobe University and the University of Pennsylvania found that sushi eaters are more open to the idea of eating insects at mealtime, according to a study published this year.

“Until relatively recently, the idea of trying sushi— let alone having it become a mainstream menu item — was often thought of with disgust in many societies,” study author Dr. Matthew Ruby of La Trobe University said in a statement. “Just like eating sushi, eating insects will take some getting used to.”

Barclays cited Meticulous Research data in its report on Monday, which found that the insect food business is worth less than $1 billion this year, Business Insider reported.

Part of the appeal of eating bugs is a lower environmental impact, the Guardian reports.

“We see scope for insects to reduce the environmental burden of our food system,” said Emily Morrison, an author of the report, according to the British newspaper. “Although there are numerous hurdles to overcome — notably regulation, price and cultural acceptance — we see insects as a viable middle ground for consumers wanting to make their diets more sustainable.”

The report predicts nearly 25 percent growth for the insect food industry yearly over the next decade, though that market growth includes both humans and livestock eating bugs, according to the Guardian.

The report said those in Generation Z, who were born from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, are “most likely to overcome the ‘yuck factor’ associated with consuming insects” and care more about the environment and health, the Guardian reports.

The La Trobe and University of Pennsylvania research found that 82 percent of Americans studied said they would think about eating insects, with more men than women indicating an openness to eating bugs.

Bugs can provide humans with important vitamins, proteins and amino acids in their diets, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which says it’s been spreading the word about the benefits of edible insect since 2003.

The organization said crickets “need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.”

But if swallowing a whole grasshopper is too daunting, there are other ways to add insect protein to the diet, researchers said: 65 percent of Americans in the study said they’d try food that included 1 percent or more insect flour.

“Insect flour can be found as a protein-rich substitute for some standard grain flours in products like crackers, biscuits and protein bars,” study author Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement. “This could be another way to introduce insects into your diet.”

Edible insects have already popped up in supermarkets, drug stores and restaurants in Canada and the U.S. — including in protein bars, chips and pasta, USA Today reported late last year.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.