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| 1 minute read

The "yuck" factor is a barrier to insect protein consumption.

I've posted a lot about alternative protein sources. Everywhere I look in the food and beverage literature, I see another article touting the virtues of plant-based meats or lab-created proteins as a substitute for what many would call traditional animal-based proteins. The alternatives are supposedly better for the environment and, some argue, better for your health. But the science I have seen suggests that protein from insects is better for the planet, equally if not better for human health, and more readily available and easier to produce, than these other alternative protein sources. So why no love for protein substitutes from insects? The answer: the “yuck” factor.

Many consumers simply cannot get past the notion that it is gross to eat insects. At a recent EU Congress on Obesity held in Venice, a study from Edge Hill University presented findings that showed “disgust” was not only a key factor in preventing consumers from eating insects but that certain demographics felt disgusted more than others. To my surprise, young people had the lowest willingness to consume insects, with willingness decreasing on average by 2% each year younger. I was also surprised to see that powdered insect proteins – which is one technique manufacturers use to make consuming insects more palatable – were considered just as “yucky” by those studied as whole insects.

The study authors suggest that the way to combat consumer disgust is to make insects more commonplace in food formulation. But how can they do that given all the disclosure requirements for food labels? A manufacturer cannot simply slip in insect protein into a flour-based product without telling the consumer. So, in my view, the future of insects as an alternative to animal-based proteins is uncertain at best, at least until the “yuck” factor is effectively addressed.   

The emergence of insects as a form of alternative protein in many ways provides the best of both worlds. While they are, unlike some plant-based alternatives, very high in protein, they are also far more sustainable to produce than traditional meat.


food and beverage, alternative protein, insects, fab