Insect start-ups in S-E Asia paving the way in which to food regimen of the longer term

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Black soldier fly larvae are rich in protein, fats, and a variety of minerals, which makes them very healthy. (Photo: Rodger Bosch / AFP via Getty Images)

Welcome to the Earth Month series, where we highlight eco-friendly dining options and inspirational stories from people in Southeast Asia to help you celebrate our planet.

Insects are the food of the future – for humans and for the animals we raise.

It may sound gross, but insects are being seriously considered as an alternative, sustainable source of protein for human societies. More and more people are avoiding the consumption of meat and fish as we learn more about the cruelty and unsustainability of industrial animal husbandry and overfishing of the oceans, which are also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock supply chains. Farm animals such as cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and goats cause large amounts of emissions, especially methane, a particularly powerful greenhouse gas. They amount to 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq.) Per year.

And did you see Seaspiracy? The Netflix documentary is the latest call to reduce our fish consumption as wanton industrial overfishing depletes marine life in our oceans, threatens the planet’s ecosystems and contributes to global warming.

A Thai woman selling fried beetles at a market in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. (Photo: AP / Sakchai Lalit)

As the global agricultural and aquaculture industries are faced with unsustainable plant breeding and depletion of fishmeal stocks in the oceans, they are looking for new sources of protein to feed their livestock in addition to grains and fishmeal. They are increasingly turning to insects as animal feed.

Eating insects is not exactly new to humans – our species have long fed on insects like crickets and maggots, including many societies in Southeast Asia.

Companies have conducted insect breeding research and tried to use scientific and industrial methods to increase the production of insect products.

Various insects can be consumed by humans, including crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and maggots such as mealworms and silkworms. Black soldier flies (and their larvae) are currently the main stars of insect breeding because they are harmless to humans, can consume large amounts of human food waste, are found worldwide, and do not disrupt local ecosystems, even if used for agriculture, populations escape into the Surroundings.

The story goes on

There are hundreds of such startups around the world working to incorporate insects into our diet for a sustainable future. Here, companies in Southeast Asia are doing just that.

Phua Jun Wei, 31, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Insectta, shows Reuters a tube of melanin solution during a laboratory demonstration in Singapore on March 3, 2021.  The photo was taken on March 3, 2021.  REUTERS / Caroline Chia

Phua Jun Wei, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Insectta in Singapore, holds a tube of melanin solution made using the company’s novel method. (Photo: Reuters / Caroline Chia)

Singapore

Singapore, a regional research and development center and business, has attracted many insect startups, although some of them have facilities in neighboring countries but the company is based in Singapore.

Plento, a joint venture between Singapore Asia Insect Farm Solutions and Thailand’s Cricket Pasta Maker Bugsolutelydevelops snacks that mix plant-based proteins and insect proteins, and combine vegetables like mung beans and chickpeas with cricket meal and mealworm meal.

There are a number of fly farms for black soldiers in Singapore, including Insectta, Ento Industries and Insect feeding technologies.

Insectta, the first (and home-grown) black soldier fly farm in Singapore, was the first to recently discover how to extract melanin, a natural pigment and biopolymer used in organic semiconductors and bioelectronics, from larvae of black soldier flies . They have also discovered environmentally friendly methods of extracting other lucrative substances such as chitosan and probiotics from the larvae.

Malaysia

There are some fly farms for black soldiers in Malaysia. Nutritional technologies and Protenga have farms in Johor while Unique biotechnology has a farm in Selangor.

Protenga, headquartered in Singapore although its breeding and farming facility is in Senai, Johor, plans to expand its smart insect farm model, which converts agricultural waste and food waste into valuable products, to waste owners across Asia.

In addition to fly farms for black soldiers, there is also a cricket farm in Kuala Lumpur, which is operated by body (Not to be confused with Ento Industries from Singapore.)

Nutrition Technologies' new insect farm in Johor, Malaysia.  (Photo: Nutritional Technologies)

Nutrition Technologies’ new insect farm in Johor, Malaysia. (Photo: Nutritional Technologies)

Thailand

Have you walked the streets of Bangkok and saw all the food stalls selling fried bugs? Thais have long enjoyed insect food.

Thailand unique is an online store that makes and sells a variety of prepackaged insect snacks for human consumers. Its offerings include scorpions, silkworms, grasshoppers, beetles, and various types of crickets. Your edible insects are made into powders and oils that you can add to any dish you want to cook. They even have chocolate-coated bug drops!

Packaged Insect and Insect Products for Sale on Thailand Unique Website: Black Scorpion, June Beetle, Mole Cricket and Dung Beetle.

Packaged Insect and Insect Products for Sale on Thailand Unique Website: Black Scorpion, June Beetle, Mole Cricket and Dung Beetle.

Thailand has a niche in cricket farming. The cricket lab produces cricket meal (powdered crickets) and fertilizer from insect food (that’s their poop and exoskeletons). Global errors produces animal feed from crickets as well as roasted edible crickets in flavors such as BBQ, ginger-lime and spicy Thai.

BugsolutelyThe Bangkok-based company makes cricket noodles that are 20% cricket flour and 80% wheat flour.

Magalarva's production facility for black soldier fly larvae in Indonesia.  (Screenshot from Youtube / Opini.id)

Magalarva’s production facility for black soldier fly larvae in Indonesia. (Screenshot from Youtube / Opini.id)

Indonesia

Indonesia has also made a push into the black soldier fly industry, with Magalarva and Hermetia Bioscience Operation of fly farms for black soldiers.

Magalarva hopes to boost the circular economy by feeding its maggots organic waste products from food and beverage factories, markets, hotels and plantations. Their products include protein for animal feed and food, as well as organic fertilizers.

Products from Entobel, a Singapore-based and Vietnam-based fly farming company for black soldiers.  Products include insect protein, insect oil, and fertilizer.  (Photo: Entobel)

Products from Entobel, a Singapore-based and Vietnam-based fly farming company for black soldiers. Products include insect protein, insect oil, and fertilizer. (Photo: Entobel)

Vietnam

Entobel is a Singapore-based biotech company that operates a black soldier fly production and processing facility in South Vietnam. The company produces animal feed and fertilizer products. The company would like to expand with further locations in the region. Each facility will appear to be capable of producing 20,000 tons of insect protein and 100,000 tons of fertilizer per year.

The Cricket Hop Co. is a UK based company with a farm in South Vietnam that makes and sells cricket powder. The company was founded by two British chefs and makes cricket meal that contains 70-74% protein. It is best to use it in recipes available on their website and in their cookbooks.

Cricket baked goods made with cricket bug powder from Eat Criche, a Cambodia-based company.  (Photo: Eat Criche)

Cricket baked goods made with cricket bug powder from Eat Criche, a Cambodia-based company. (Photo: Eat Criche)

Cambodia

Bug baconLocated in Cambodia, the company makes a bacon-like snack from roasted black soldier fly maggots flavored with locally grown, sustainably grown plant ingredients. The company describes Bug Bacon as “fat and tasty”. Bug Bacon sources its supply of black soldier fly larvae from Malaysia’s Unique Biotech (see above).

Eat criche has a farm in Cambodia producing cricket protein powder, cricket toasted snacks and cricket flour baked goods. They are currently experimenting with energy bars, inexpensive supplements, and snacks to combat malnutrition in the countryside.

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