Waiter, there are bugs in my soup

If one is squeamish about eating edible bugs like mealworms (far left) in South Korea, there is the mealworm cookie (left).
If one is squeamish about eating edible bugs like mealworms (above) in South Korea, there is the mealworm cookie.PHOTO: REUTERS
If one is squeamish about eating edible bugs like mealworms (far left) in South Korea, there is the mealworm cookie (left).
If one is squeamish about eating edible bugs like mealworms in South Korea, there is the mealworm cookie (above).PHOTO: REUTERS

Fret not, they are part of the recipe as S. Korea looks to expand its insect industry as a source of agricultural income by boosting consumption

SEOUL • Ms Bae Su Hyeon's lunch of sweet potato soup and fungi pasta has bugs in it. They are part of the recipe.

"It didn't feel like eating insects," says Ms Bae, an 18-year-old student having lunch with a friend at Papillon's Kitchen, a Seoul restaurant specialising in insects.

That's because the mealworms in her dishes were hydrolysed into powder to make the pasta and soup.

Insect-eating, or entomophagy, has long been common in much of the world, including South Korea, where boiled silky worm pupae, or beondegi, are a popular snack.

Now, South Korea is looking to expand its insect industry as a source of agricultural income by promoting more consumption, joining a global trend that has seen rising interest in insects as a nutritious and environmentally friendly food.

To do that, the government is trying to make people more comfortable with the idea of eating crickets and mealworms that are ground into powder or hydrolysed to extract oils and protein and turned into food, from ice cream to sausages.

THE TASTE TEST

If people taste foods after having a good first impression, and find they are delicious, that's everything, because taste speaks for itself.

MR KIM YOUNG WOOK, chief executive of the Korean Edible Insect Laboratory and owner of Papillon's Kitchen.

Mr Kim Young Wook, chief executive of the private-sector Korean Edible Insect Laboratory and owner of Papillon's Kitchen, said the key to winning over sceptical customers was presentation.

"If people taste foods after having a good first impression, and find they are delicious, that's everything, because taste speaks for itself," he said this week at a tasting event staged by the Agriculture Ministry.

South Korea's insect industry was worth 304 billion won (S$370 million) last year, nearly double that in 2011, although food for humans accounted for just six billionwon of that, with the rest coming from uses like animal feed.

The government wants to expand the industry to 530 billion won by 2020, with food making up nearly a fifth.

The number of farms producing insects rose to 724 last year, from 265 in 2011.

Insects can be a rich source of fat, protein, vitamins, fibre and minerals, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable to that in fish and higher than in beef and pork, it said.

Globally, at least two billion people eat insects and more than 1,900 species have been used for food, according to the FAO, which said entomophagy could play a key role in food security and environmental protection. Insects need less land and water than cattle.

Mr Kim Jong Hee, who has been raising insects since 2000 for animal feed, began farming mealworms and crickets for people in 2013. "In the past, people used to shake their heads when they thought of bugs, but now more people believe insects are edible," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Waiter, there are bugs in my soup'. Print Edition | Subscribe