While eating insects is not too alien to a concept in some of our local communities (sago worms), they are more of a delight than a rule by which we are directed. more sustainable planet.
With rising demand for food above how harmful livestock is for the environment, insect-derived proteins appeared as a possible solution to kill two single-stone birds.
Edible insect farming is still a relatively new concept and we decided to interview three local insect farming companies about the look of the industry so far in Malaysia:
- Kevin Wu, Cos, cultivation of cricket larvae and Black Soldier Fly (BSF) for human consumption
- Sio, Origin of life, Culture of BSF larvae for animal feed
- Jeff, Worming Up, Culture of BSF larvae for animal feed
What is insect farming?
Like livestock, it can raise, raise, feed, slaughter and sell insects as it would with cows, chickens, pigs and others.
It is common to grow insects to consume their by-products. For example, we already cultivate kelulut (without bites) bees for their honey. Insects are usually raised for honey, silk, resin, and so on.
But there is still not too much edible insect cultivation. In Malaysia, Ento is the only start-up to date that grows insects specifically for human consumption, while most other startups do so for animal feed.
How are insects grown and harvested?
Different insects require different types of cultivation methods. For Ento, they grow their crickets in egg cartons and in a room.
Jeff and Sio grow their larvae in a controlled environment with cages in greenhouses that have shrubs and bushes to mimic their natural living environment. Adult flies can roam freely, more like traditional livestock than crickets.
“But they do not interact with the natural environment. The adult fly also has a short lifespan and is a non-pest species, unlike the housefly, ”said Jeff.
The advantage of growing insects in Malaysia is that we have an optimal climate for them. Kevin previously shared with us, our tropical climate eliminates the need to spend loads on heating and humidity, making it cheaper to grow crickets here.
BSFs are also commonly found in tropical climates like ours. Therefore, these insects do not disrupt other surrounding ecosystems while cultivating because they do not interact with outside flora and fauna.
When it’s too cold for crickets, they switch to hibernation mode. So Kevin freezes them deeply to harvest them and compares this method to that of one who dies during sleep.
Freezing is also how Jeff harvests his larvae. Sio, on the other hand, uses a high instant heat treatment to kill its larvae.
Why aren’t there too many emerging companies growing insects for human consumption?
Let’s be real: most of us think of insects not only as an acquired taste, but also as a food. Dead or alive, putting an insect in your mouth is not an easy thing to do for those of us who have grown up in cozy urban areas.
And even if you grind them into powder, meat lovers who are sensitive to textures and flavors other than their favorite ribeye, wagyus, and cane won’t be the most receptive to this more sustainable substitute.
At the very least, there are more insect insect farmers in Malaysia than human consumption, as the demand for this, as expected, is still quite small.
Sio shared that with so many meat and vegetable options on the market, it is a persistent challenge to convince Malaysians to consume insect protein.
“Establishing food production for insect proteins could be very expensive and compliance with certification is a major challenge. With less demand and a large investment, this is why most insect farmers continue to grow as food. animal [for] the use of fertilizers, ”he added.
Jeff believes that growing insects for animal feed also has a lower entry point. Because if insects were grown for human consumption or their medicinal value, it would cost more R&D in addition to requiring a food classification, which is a higher point of entry.
“To produce insects safe for human consumption, you should consider food safety control because you can’t feed the insect with food waste and you have to handle surplus uncontaminated food with caution,” Jeff said.
That is why both Sio and Jeff cultivate BSF larvae for waste management and animal feed to solve food and agricultural waste problems.
What types of insects can you eat? Most importantly, how do you know …?
Kevin believes crickets have a more affordable taste for human consumption as it has one of the most neutral tasting profiles, making them the most basic insect protein for beginners.
It was mostly nuts and earthy, almost like a cross between toasted prawns and toasted almonds, he explained. “Crickets taste like what they eat. So if they eat sweeter foods, they will also taste sweeter. ”
There could also be different types of insects taste such as soft-shelled crab, salted bananas, bacon, pistachios, popcorn, mashed potatoes, cinnamon, mushrooms and even chicken. It looks suitable for adventurous dining rooms that have a great texture.
My partner who has eaten crickets and BSF larvae prefers the latter as it tastes more like shrimp and has fewer crunchy parts than a cricket. (Also, the larvae have no obvious faces to look at while you put them in your mouth.)
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO), there are more than 2,000 species of insects safe for human consumption, such as locusts, worm larvae, locusts, scorpions, moths, beetles, termites, and so on.
You can consume insects as a whole (legs, wings, everything attached), in the form of grains or pasta (cricket sambal, anyone?), Etc. If you want some ideas, Ento has made grills in meatballs, bread, granola and month.
Legislation on edible insect farming in Malaysia
“Currently, there are no specific regulations on insects in Malaysia. But if we do something for human consumption, we will only follow food safety and food standard protocols, ”Kevin explained.
What they do at Ento is almost the same as what you might expect from other F&B companies with their products: that they test their products on their nutrition and safety and list the nutritional profile of the packaging.
Kevin noted that other countries are beginning to establish regulations on insect proteins, and Sio has no idea they have such policies and regulations. He believes that safety and quality are the keys to advancing the insect breeding industry, especially for human consumption.
At the moment, there are only a few legislation insect pest control in Malaysia. Aside from legislation, edible insect farmers should be concerned about obtaining halal certification, especially if they are trying to cater to the Muslim market.
Determine if something is also halal it depends about what school of Islamic thought he follows.
“Specifically, fats and larvae, as far as I know, are considered halal by the Indonesian Islamic Council. Although JAKIM has not yet had an opinion on this, I think that while a handful of Islamic councils consider this to be halal, it is safe for human consumption in the Muslim market, ”Kevin told Vulcan Post.
The cost of starting an insect farm
There are several factors that insect farmers take into account when starting out:
- Whether you grow it for human consumption or for feed or other
- The scale of your operation, whether manual or mechanical
- Whether you use new materials as well as recyclable or old materials
Jeff shared that the estimated cost would be about 200 to 1,000 RM for a home-based farm and 5,000 to 50,000 for a small scale.
“The initial capital is not high for insect breeding. Everyone who wants to should start in small amounts before going on a larger scale. Basic tools and would only cost a few hundred Ringgit, ”added Sio.
There are also local startups that offer agricultural products for insect crops such as Protect, which makes intelligent solutions for insect farming with technology.
Something the interviewees agreed on is that there should be a more active involvement of the government to grow this industry.
“We are one of the best places to grow insects thanks to our tropical climate which is optimal for growing insects. It could become a pillar of the agricultural industry one day [with a] high possibility of export to generate income ”, believes Sio.
In line with their beliefs, the Malaysian edible insect industry is too planned reach US $ 28 million (US $ 116 million) by 2023, so we may see more insect-focused edible companies appear in time.
- You can find more information about Ento here, Origin of life hereand Worming Up here.
- You can read about other insect breeding articles we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Kevin Wu, founder of Ento and Jeff Wee, founder of Worming Up