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Entomophagy or eating insects is nothing new. People across the globe have been ingesting these little critters since the beginning of civilization. They crop up in a range of amazing dishes in some parts of Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Thais are not strangers to cooking insects, either. The streets of Bangkok and other provinces are lined with stalls peddling deep-fried crickets and silkworm seasoned with soy sauce and spicy black pepper. While locals rarely bat an eye, the sight of piled-up cooked insects are still a surprise to many Western tourists, who usually react to the thought of snacking on these critters with a raised eyebrows or a barely concealed shudder. But the joke may just be on them.
Food experts have long extolled the fact that eating insects are actually beneficial to one's health. Insects are a rich source of nutrients. A single cricket, for one, is a complete source of protein and essential amino acids. Worms, grasshoppers and another 1,000 to 2,000 species (yes, even cockroaches) also provide amazing nutritional benefits. All these raise the possibility that insects may just be the food of the future. The very near future, in fact, if you listen to the folks behind Exofood Thailand.
Co-founders Athivach “Boom” Pongsattasin and Chonticha “Tuk” Sujitalom, executive consultant Charee “Ree” Boonyavinij, and operations director Parit “Pee” Niruttisard are the masterminds behind the progressive company that’s aspiring to redefine the concept of entomophagy. By putting up an insect farm, and doing extensive research and experimentation, Exofood Thailand is repositioning bugs as an alternative source of protein and nutrition. And not just for human ingestion, but also as food for exotic pets.
Many exotic animals are highly sensitive especially when it comes to nourishment. And most of them eat bugs. “It shouldn't be just any insect, but the right, nourishing ones,” says co-founder Boom, who reveals that the idea of an insect farm came to him when he was trying to source food for his own exotic pet. “I just wanted to feed my freaky-looking friends nutritious and sanitized food, and keep them healthy.”
The idea soon grew to include breeding insects for human consumption. “The first stage is to standardize insects to reach human-food level,” Boom continues to explain. “Completely innovative ready-made food for animals is our next plan. But our ultimate goal is to make insect-inspired cuisine for humans.” The company is hinting at crafting a scrumptious treat that has insects as its main ingredient.
And it seems like they’re on the right track. Exofood is built to look like a lab and a vertical farm, where hygiene and temperature are highly supervised. “Our farm is unlike any other traditional livestock farm. Since we’re working in a closed space, we need to control the potential possibilities by managing the atmosphere to be as professional as it could be. Visitors must put on the provided sanitary shoes and wash their hands.”
In putting up Exofood Thailand, the foursome is also hoping to save the world. Operations director Pee relates that consuming insects instead of livestock is more environmentally-friendly since insects have 80 percent edible parts while mainstream meat sources only have 40 percent. This repeats what the Institute of Food Technologists claimed in a report in 2014.
Compared to cattle, pigs and chicken, insects also require less feed, less water, less land, and less energy to produce. Growing insects for mass production also generates substantially lower environmental pollutants and greenhouse gases.
“Once we reach our first goal of producing food-grade insects, we plan to achieve the next phase, which includes assimilating insects for better environmental sustainability and food waste management," Boom says. "Food waste can be easily reduced by the help of our little friends. We have been working on how to effectively extract organic protein that can help cut down food waste while protecting the environment.” These are a lot of plans for a journey that has just begun, but the Exofood founder and the rest of the crew are keeping their minds and options open. “We have a lot more to explore.”