The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The nutritional contribution of insects in the diets of modern humans: a geometric analysis


1Institute of Natural Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand, 2Department of Anthropology, Hunter College of the City University of New York

Saturday 8:15-8:30, Galleria South Add to calendar

We review the occurrence of human entomophagy, and use a multi-dimensional technique known as the right-angled mixture triangle to test whether nutritional regularities underpin the diverse roles played by insects in human foodways. Insects have likely featured in the evolution, prehistory and history of the human diet. For contemporary humans, the most notable aspect of their contribution to the diet is its diversity. In some societies entomophagy is regarded with disgust, but this is the exception, with insects being eaten in approximately 80% of modern nations. Among these populations the extent and patterns of entomophagy are diverse. In some cultures insects are eaten only when other sources of animal protein are scarce, whereas in others they are a sought-after resource. Among these, their role ranges from an occasional delicacy to a substantial proportion (> 50%) of animal-derived protein. In many cultures edible insects are opportunistically collected, whereas in others they are semi-farmed or even farmed on a commercial scale. Credible estimates of the number of insect species eaten by contemporary humans range between 1000 and 2000, although most of those eaten in significant quantities belong to one of six orders (Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Orthoptera, Isoptera, Hymenoptera and Hemiptera). Our analysis shows that compared with insects eaten by other primates, the composition of those eaten by humans is diverse. We conclude that to understand the nutritional basis for the diversity of entomophagy in humans, more information is needed on the compositions of non-insect components of the diets of the various cultures.

We are grateful for financial support from the National Research Centre for Growth and Development, New Zealand

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