Buzzing: From Britain with hope
Hello friends, happy new year! I wish you all good health and success for 2022.
Today in Buzzing:
Britain’s edible insect sector is striving to bring bugs back to legality
In Other News: South Park and wine pairing
Test Corner: Yum Bug’s cricket meal kits
As most of you probably know, I am based in London in the UK. Until recently, the UK was one of the most progressive markets for edible insects in Europe: not only were edible insects allowed on the market, it had a small but vibrant sector with SMEs pushing the boat out on edible insect innovation: cooking courses, check. Local farms, check. Meat alternative products, check. Flavoured insects and insect snacks, check check check.
Then came Brexit. In theory, Brexit could have been a good thing, an opportunity for the edible insect sector to do away with the bureaucratic and clunky Novel Food legislation that regulates edible insects. Novel Food isn’t a bad piece of legislation per se, it’s just that it was designed to assess the safety of genuinely novel products like lab-grown meat or cannabidiol (CBD) products, not that of well-established foods like insects.
Being approved as a Novel Food means that every insect product – whole, ground, in a pancake, a cracker, as a meat substitute and so on – must be subject to an application. Dossiers take months to prepare (they require extensive lab testing and safety data) and cost around £70,000 to put together.
Many hoped that the UK would make the sensible decision to regulate edible insects as general foods instead. It didn’t. Worse, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) decided not to uphold the transition measures the EU had put in place to allow the sector to keep trading until the first Novel Food applications were approved. British insect companies, it insisted, would have to submit their own applications.
Edible insects are now “unauthorised” in Britain (Northern Ireland is a different story). What this has meant in practice is that most companies have been unable to get insurance. For some, that’s meant closing down, or putting their business on hold. Others however have decided to carry on: it is down to Local Authorities to interpret FSA decisions and most Local Authorities have decided they were happy for insect businesses to keep trading.
Considering the UK’s green agenda, its desire to make food systems healthier and more sustainable, the FSA’s decision is inexplicable. The argument can’t be about safety either since edible insects were allowed – and safely consumed – in the UK for a decade before Brexit.
In a bid to comply with FSA requirements, the sector pulled together under trade association The Woven Network and submitted a Novel Food application for Acheta domesticus (house cricket) just before Christmas. It is also preparing one for Tenebrio molitor (yellow mealworm). Approval can take up to 18 months however so the sector hopes that the FSA will allow it to keep trading until the applications are approved.
There are hopeful signs: the FSA has granted transition periods to other sectors such as CBD products. The agency also recently commissioned a report by the University of Cambridge on emerging food technologies, which specifically recommended that:
“FSA needs to be closely involved in the development of this sector introducing regulation and guidelines to assist in changing consumers’ attitudes towards the products, and creating an environment in which industry can prosper. This means addressing the current restrictions around novel food classification.”
So here’s to a positive 2022 for the sector in Britain. In the words of HOP’s social media campaign: #BringBackCrickets.
In Other News
South Park’s take on edible insects – I couldn’t resist.
My piece for Insider on how to produce 10,000 tonnes of protein per year per hectare.
After food, feed: European consortium ValuSect plans to launch a call for interest on 17 January for SMEs working with insects as animal feed to receive vouchers worth up to €40,000.
And my favourite for today: will you have red or white with the crickets? Wine pairing for insects – I really need to up my game in Test Corner (Lifestyle Asia).
This week, I tried Yum Bug’s new cricket meal kits. Launched in the UK just before Christmas (if you fancy a giggle, check out their Cricketmas marketing antics on Instagram), I’d been really looking forward to trying them: I’ve followed Yum Bug for some time because of the excellent insect recipes they post, so I figured their meal kits would be a hit.
And they didn’t disappoint. Both were delicious and ridiculously easy to use: the crickets take literally 5 minutes to prepare: 1 min for your pan to warm, 2 min to lightly fry your crickets, 1 min more for the seasoning, and another 1 min for the sauce. Boom.
The magic formula appears to be a mix of very zingy, vibrant flavours from the dry seasoning, balanced out by sweeter notes from the sauces. Crucially, the sauces coat rather than soak the crickets, which means they retain their crunchiness (no one likes a soggy cricket – I don’t anyway).
I particularly liked the taco kit, which I prepared as a nacho bowl, with lightly salted tortilla crisps, chopped avocado, sliced red pepper, dollops of sour cream, fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime. It looked joyful and tasted like a party: I would have that every week.
The beauty of the kits is that they’re designed to be flexible: I could just as easily have served the crickets in fajitas, quesadillas or a dish of rice and beans. Similarly, I prepared the stir fry kit as a stir fry with veggies and noodles, but the kits also suggest serving them with rice or in a wrap (think hoisin duck pancakes, but with crickets).
The kits are designed to serve two; I think they could easily serve three or four. I find crickets are nutritionally quite dense so a small portion is enough, but that’s just a personal preference.
Which brings me to my last point: sadly, no one at home would try them. I have mentioned before how whole insects have not yet found the favours of my family (ground insects are fine though). I do think the kits are perfect for people who are ready to experiment with insects (which, incidentally, is exactly who Yum Bug are targeting). But they may not be enough to bring round the 67% of people who recently declared that nothing could convince them to try edible insects… I think we’ll need a lot more Instagram for that, some celebrity chefs, a couple of high-profile athletes and the corporate might of a food conglomerate.
Yum Bug insect meal kits from £4.99.