When it comes to eating insects, New Zealanders like them crunchy and, if given a choice, would opt to eat a black field cricket before other creepy-crawlies, according to a new AgResearch report that explores the nation's appetite for insects.
The Crown Research Institute surveyed 1300 New Zealanders to assess which native insects respondents would be most likely to consume to test the market potential for each insect as a product.
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The survey found participants are more likely to eat - given the choice - black field cricket nymphs and locust nymphs, followed by mānuka beetle and then huhu beetle grubs.
It also found they would least like to consume porina caterpillars and wax moth larvae, which suggests we are more open to eating "crunchier" insects, as opposed to the softer "squishier" insects, reinforcing that texture is an important factor influencing decisions to consume insects.
Sixty percent of survey participants thought eating insects would be a more environmentally sustainable option than eating beef, lamb, pork and chicken produced from traditional New Zealand farms.
AgResearch scientist Penny Payne who led the survey component of the research said insects were an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, with high levels of vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.
However, in Western societies, insects are not seen as appropriate or appealing food.
"The reasons behind this are culturally and socially complex, but tend to orient around psychological barriers such as disgust toward insects as food, poor presentation of insects as an appealing food choice, and lack of familiarity," she said.
She said in particular, in most Western countries people may associate insects with connotations of pests and disease transmission, due to this being the most common way they are portrayed.
"The survey findings suggest that an insect product with clearly explained environmental and health benefits may be successful in the New Zealand market," said Payne.
She also said insects should not be marketed as an alternative to meat.
"They are best marketed as a distinct category rather than an extension of the 'meat' category, to minimise expectations of similar sensory attributes (taste, appearance, smell) as meat."