Plant-based burgers are all the rage, which means they quickly becoming yesterday’s news. Now, besides meat and plant-based patties, customers at over 800 BILLA and BILLA PLUS (formerly Merkur) stores will find insect burgers – or at least, insect-based burgers – in the freezer section. ZIRP Insects, which released a statement about the partnership on Monday, is pitching its ZIRP Burger Patty as a climate-friendly alternative that tastes more like meat and has more protein than many plant-based versions, too.
ZIRP Burger Pattys consist of nearly 40% buffalo worms, or lesser mealworms, which are the larval form of the darkling beetle. (Readers interested in learning about the difference between regular mealworms and buffalo worms – both edible – can check out this website.) Other ingredients include pea protein and mushrooms, creating a “hearty, juicy flavor that is reminiscent of meat but doesn’t attempt to imitate meat.”
In May 2021, mealworms received the European Food Safety Authority’s seal of approval as a “novel food,” creating a new legal framework for their inclusion in products meant for human consumption. Approval for the consumption of migratory locusts may soon follow.
The buzz around insect-eating is a direct result of efforts to reduce emissions and slow global heating. A recent study reportedly found that meat production is responsible for 60% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions – especially beef – while a 2013 study by the FAO said livestock farming was responsible for 14% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions overall. In other words, cutting down meat consumption is an essential way to help slow down climate change.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been calling for people to switch to insect-based proteins since 2013, when they released a report on entomophagy (bug eating) as a way to tackle global food insecurity.
The report noted: “Consuming insects has a number of advantages:
• They have high feed-conversion efficiency (an animal’s capacity to convert feed mass into increased body mass, represented as kg of feed per kg of weight gain).
• They can be reared on organic side streams, reducing environmental contamination, while adding value to waste.
• They emit relatively few GHGs and relatively little ammonia.
• They require significantly less water than cattle rearing.
• They have few animal welfare issues, although the extent to which insects experience pain is largely unknown.
• They pose a low risk of transmitting zoonotic infections.”
But in 2013, the FAO also said “consumer acceptance remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries.”
That may be changing. The insect-eating sector is growing rapidly even in countries where people have not traditionally consumed insects. Besides ZIRP Insects, companies including Livin Farms in Austria and Snack Insects in Germany have been working on ways to add ground-up insects to human diets, touting the high-quality protein and low environmental impact.
While novelty offers for athletes or bold eaters have been around for some time, product palettes are expanding. “Insects are excellently suited for processing,” said Christoph Thomann, Founder and CEO of ZIRP Insects. “They have a mildly nutty flavor and are easily ground up and integrated in many beloved recipes.” His company’s online shop, for instance, also sells protein bars, falafel mix, brownie mix and more.
“Insects are more than just a trendy food product and are a particularly climate-friendly source of protein,” said Markus Kuntke, head of trend and innovation management at the REWE Group, which includes BILLA and BILLA PLUS. “The interest in sustainable nutrition and alternative food products has increased noticeably.”
Emerging entomophagists – and those willing to go the distance for climate protection – now have more products to choose from, and no further to go in Austria than their local supermarket.