• “It appears the more open you are to ‘exotic’ foods, the more willing you’ll be to taste-test a grasshopper, or an ant, or even a spider.” (E+/Getty Images)
If you can stomach a plate of sushi today, it's likely that you'll be open to eating insects in the near future.
By
Yasmin Noone

13 Mar 2019 - 3:53 PM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2019 - 3:53 PM

If you’re willing to eat sushi on a regular basis, you might be more inclined to give insects a good crack and consume them without a sense of sheer disgust.

A new international study led by Victoria’s La Trobe University and the University of Pennsylvania has found that people who frequently consume sushi are more open to introducing edible insects into their diets. 

The research, published online in the journal Food Quality and Preference, involved interviews with people from two countries: one group of 275 participants were from the United States and the other group of 201 individuals hailed from India.

In both countries, the frequency of sushi consumption – food that was commonly met with disgust when it was first introduced – was a significant and substantial predictor of insect acceptance.

The results showed that 82 per cent of American participants were willing to eat insects, while 43 per cent ate sushi often.

“It appears the more open you are to ‘exotic’ foods, the more willing you’ll be to taste-test a grasshopper, or an ant, or even a spider.”

Paper co-author and lecturer in psychology at La Trobe University, Dr Matthew Ruby believes sushi could be a gateway to eating insects.

“Just like eating sushi, eating insects will take some getting used to,” says Dr Ruby.

“It appears the more open you are to ‘exotic’ foods, the more willing you’ll be to taste-test a grasshopper, or an ant, or even a spider.”

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The research also highlights cultural differences in our acceptance of insects as an alternative food source.

Over 80 per cent of American participants stated they would consider eating insects, compared to 34 per cent of Indian participants. Almost 30 per cent of Indian participants said they were willing to try food containing at least one per cent insect flour, compared with 65 per cent of Americans.

“The results confirm prior findings that Americans are more accepting of insects as a potential food than Indians and that men are more accepting than women,” the paper reads.

“Substantially more Indians than Americans consider insect ingestion a violation of a protected/sacred value, suggesting a moral objection.”

“The results confirm prior findings that Americans are more accepting of insects as a potential food than Indians, and that men are more accepting than women."

The study explains that for Americans, disgust was the major predictor of whether they would eat an insect or not: if they could get over their repugnance, they could probably accept edible insects into their diet. The next main consideration was whether there were any benefits to an insect-based dish, like environmental sustainability or improvements in health.

The main predictor of whether Indian participants would sample insects was 'benefits': if they thought there were no benefits, then they were less likely to eat insects. This was followed by disgust and then religion.

“Our data indicate that the Indian participants were more sceptical about eating insects,” says Dr Ruby. “They believed that the health risks were greater, and the environmental benefits lesser, than did the Americans.

“Eating insects seems to touch on moral issues much more for Indians compared with Americans, as suggested by the fact that religiosity predicted insect acceptance in India and not in the USA.” 

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However, Dr Ruby explains, the study reveals country-specific attitudes and not regional ideas about insect consumption.

“I’d be very cautious not to overgeneralise to Western versus Eastern tastes on the basis of just two countries. Our American participants were more willing to eat insects than our Indian participants, but research by our colleagues in Zürich found that Chinese participants were more willing to eat insects than Germans.

“More research needs to be done to understand what cultural factors make people more or less willing to eat insects.”

“Eating insects is part of a larger conversation on food, health, and sustainability."

Edible insects: an old idea but a new food source in Western cuisine

The idea of eating insects isn’t new. In fact, it's an ancient concept.

“People have been eating insects in Australia for thousands of years, with witchetty grubs and bogong moths being two iconic types of bush tucker,” says Dr Ruby.

In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations suggested people throughout the world shift their diet to be more insect-inclusive because most insects are high in protein and are a reasonably sustainable food source. The UN also states that insects could be used for animal feed, to make agricultural production more sustainable.

“Eating insects is part of a larger conversation on food, health, and sustainability.

“Alongside plant-based foods, insects are one of the many possible ways we can feed a growing global population while being mindful of our impact on the environment.”

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