What factors influence our choice to eat insects as food?

The article entitled “Insects as food: Exploring cultural exposure and individual experience as determinants of acceptance” was published in 2015 by Tan et al. and looks at the cultural, social and individual factors that influence the choice to eat insects as food. There are many factors explored in the article that range from predisposed perceptions to sensory evaluations.

The article compared four distinct groups of individuals based on their previous experiences with insect consumption, and their cultural background. The groups include Thai insect eaters, Thai insect non-eaters, Dutch insect eaters and Dutch insect non-eaters. The reason these two cultures were chosen was because Thailand is a culture that includes insects as food regularly, while insects are rarely included in diets found in The Netherlands. A cross-cultural comparison was formulated in this article that compared these two cultures.

The study looked at individual experiences and knowledge on insects as food; reasons to eat or not eat insects; evaluation of images of insect species and products; and optional tasting and evaluation of insect-based products. One of the main findings of the study was that insect consumption was susceptible to the context of the foods, e.g., if an insect was seen as being savoury, people were less willing to try it if it was prepared in a sweet dish. Also, cultural exposure to insects, and trying insects as children significantly increased a person’s likelihood to be willing to try insects as an adult.

 Table1_EdibleInsects

Figure 1: A range of images of edible insect species used for perceived liking in the article.
Source: Tan HSG, Fischer ARH, Tinchanc P, Stiegera M, Steenbekkersa LPA, van Trijp HCM, 2015. Insects as food: Exploring cultural exposure and individual experience as determinants of acceptance. Food quality and Preference. Vol 42, pp 80.

Some of the differences seen between the two cultures was that the Dutch participants were more interested in eating insects as a novelty or as a sustainable replacement for meat. However, the main motivators for Thai participants to consume insects was for taste and cultural traditions.
Another difference between the two cultures was that the Dutch participants were more willing to eat the worm-shaped or small-sized insects as large insects were perceived to taste negatively. Contrarily, the Thai participants were more willing to eat the large insects, and saw the worm-shaped insects as negative as they had a perceived association with death.

The study overall gave some insight on some factors that influence individual consumption of insects in these two contrasting cultures, but further studies on societal perception and marketing insects as food are necessary if insects as eventually introduced as a sustainable replacement for meat.

Tan HSG, Fischer ARH, Tinchanc P, Stiegera M, Steenbekkersa LPA, van Trijp HCM, 2015. Insects as food: Exploring cultural exposure and individual experience as determinants of acceptance. Food quality and Preference. Vol 42, pp 78-89.

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About Centre for Advanced Sensory Science (CASS)

The Deakin University Centre for Advanced Sensory Science (CASS) in Melbourne is dedicated to helping the sustainable growth of the Australian food industry by being a provider of high quality sensory and flavour research, and training the next generation of sensory scientists.
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