For many, snacking on a handful of salty crickets is regular fare. But what about drinking cockroach milk or treating yourself to a caramel dessert floating on a base of mealworms?
To some, the idea of eating insects is literally stomach-turning, but considering Earth’s population is expected to swell to 8.5 billion by 2030, the environmental pressures created by declining space and resources may force us to redefine what we consider a “normal” source of food.
Enter Skye Blackburn, a Sydneysider, entomologist and food scientist with a passion for sustainable food practices. She started Edible Bug Shop, Australia’s first farmer of edible insects and a world leader in edible insect-farming techniques. As a child, Skye’s interest in insects extended to buying herself a tarantula and caring for a variety of pets like praying mantises and stick insects.
“When it was time to go to university I did a degree in entomology,” she says. “I studied food science at the same time, so that I would have a backup.”
After finding it difficult to secure work in entomology, Skye took a life-changing trip overseas in 2007. “I tried edible insects in Thailand. When I came home, I liked the idea of edible insects, but couldn’t get any in Australia,” she says. “I thought I had the perfect combination of skills to educate people about incorporating insects into our diet and Westernising things.”
“You don’t have to eat a whole scorpion or a tarantula to enjoy the benefits of the insect.”
For the last 13 years Blackburn has dedicated herself to educating the public about the sustainable, high-protein options available in the insect world.
“It was part of my business to go to schools and teach children about the importance of insects,” she says. “We were looking for a unique item to hand out, and made lollipops with real bugs on the inside. They were so popular that people kept asking for them, and because I’m a food scientist, I sent away some crickets for nutritional testing.”
“When I got the results back, I was really shocked that no-one was eating them as a source of food.”
Skye went on to open the Edible Bugs Shop. The online shop provides novel products like ant candy, cricket-powder tortilla chips and pasta, and untreated snacks like plain roasted crickets and mealworms. So far this is the only store of its kind in Australia.
“When we first started, we realised people weren’t ready for things that were made using insects. We focused on the novelty value, and made chocolate-coated bugs and lollipops. About six or seven years ago, we made the conscious decision not to do that,” she says.
“We realised people were very educated about insect-based foods and wanted sustainable, nutrient-dense foods to feed their families. Insects tick all those boxes. We have protein powders that you can add to your curry or stir-fry, or your cookies. We also have cricket-protein-enhanced corn chips with limited ingredients.”
In 2019, Edible Bug Shop generated $500,000 supplying products online and to high-end clients like Attica. In 2018 it was part of the SproutX food and agtech accelerator program, and the following year part of the MARS Seeds of Change program. It’s now rolling out a new retail brand, Circle Harvest, into stores around Australia.
“If you have 10 kilos of feed, you produce about one kilogram of beef or nine kilos of edible insects,” she says. “We are a circular system in that all the insect poo goes to back to the farms that supply the fruit and vegetable waste, and that acts as fertiliser.”
“They don’t need any additional water during their production process, so if you replace just one meat-based meal a week with insect-based protein, you save over 100,000 litres of water a year.”
“That’s about four city pools worth of water!”
Catch Skye speaking all things Algae and Cells and Insects at this years Raising the Bar event.
This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with City of Sydney.