Skye Blackburn is an entomologist and food scientist living in Australia. She is dedicated to educating people about insects and other invertebrates in a way that is fun and interactive. She is also the owner of Edible Bug Shop and a world leader in edible insect farming techniques, developing edible insect products and educating the general public about the benefits of insects as a food source.
EBF: How did you become passionate about entomophagy?
I have always had a passion for creepy crawlies and so I studied entomology at university. Knowing that there aren’t that many jobs in entomology in Australia, I also did a degree in food science at the same time. After finishing my studies I worked as a food scientist while I started my own business breeding bugs in 2007.
After learning about edible insects when I visited Thailand, I was determined to start breeding edible insects for the Western market and help educate the general public about how delicious and nutritious they really are.
Is there a history of insect-eating in Australia?
Aboriginal Australian’s have always included edible insects as part of their diet. Their diets consisted of honey pot ants, witchetty grubs, bogong moths and green tree ants which they use to make medicinal teas.
How do Australians feel about it today?
We actually work with schools around Australia where the students learn all about edible insects under the topic of FUTURE FOOD. The students learn all about more sustainable food practices and actually get to eat insects, For most of them it’s their first time. We are finding that these students are very open minded when it comes to eating insects, with the majority of them expressing they would eat insects on a regular basis if it were to be offered to them.
We feel that these future adults are the key to having a sustainable food future in Australia, and will be the consumers most likely to adopt eating insects on a regular basis within the next 5-7 years. Australians are very conscious of where their food comes from and the impact producing food has on our environment, so especially within the past 2-3 years, we have seen a big increase in Edible Bug Shop’s customer base.
We are finding that more and more Australians are eating insects on a regular basis and these customers are converting their friends and family into insect eaters as well. We are the only edible insect farm in Australia and are currently working with the government to develop an edible insect industry here to help with food security and Australian edible insect exports to Asia.
Do you farm your own insects?
We do farm our own insects. We started breeding insects specifically for human consumption in 2007 and also have a manufacturing facility where we process our food products. We started breeding the insects on a small scale at fist, so we could develop the techniques to start breeding them on a larger scale.
Now we have developed a system which allows us to increase our production capacity quite quickly using 100% natural diets for our insects that help us achieve maximum nutrition in the final product. It is also a non grain based diet. This was important to us, because we want to be able to use recycled food waste to make our end product.
You began breeding insects for human consumption since 2007. How has the attitude of the public hanged?
Since 2007 we have definitely seen a big shift in the types of customers we have. Previously we mainly serviced the novelty and TV market, with the majority of our products going to gift stores, lolly shops and for filming “fear factor” type shows. Four years ago we made a business decision to shift our focus to health related edible insect products. Edible Bug Shop now supplies health food stores, cafes, retail and restaurants with healthy, natural and nutrient dense products which happen to contain edible insects as a key ingredient.
Why do you believe that eating insects is important?
Eating insects is very important for the future of our population, the sustainability aspects are very difficult to ignore and from this point of view it just makes sense. But in saying that, sustainability isn’t the only reason we should be looking at edible insects as a source of food!
Humans have evolved to have a varied diet and I believe that in a world full of processed “foods” we should be looking to increase the amount and types of natural foods in our diets. Edible insects are a fantastic little superfood, because they are not only full of protein, but have significant amounts of essential micronutrients, amino acids and B vitamins.
These aren’t chemically added to the insects, they are naturally occurring. The insects themselves are also a delicious and versatile ingredient, so there is no reason NOT to add them as part of a balanced diet.
How do vegetarians react to eating insects?
We do have a lot of customers who have switched from being vegetarian for ethical or environmental reasons to eating insects as part of their diet. We find that most are fascinated by the concept and even if they are not be willing to introduce them to their own diet, it’s an important tool in educating others on the benefits of replacing some of the meat we eat with insects and plants.
What is your marketing strategy for people who are more squeamish?
We have developed a healthy and nutrient dense range of products containing edible insects as a key ingredient to help the Western world overcome their “ick” reactions when it comes to eating insects. Some of our products do contain whole insects but others contain high levels of our insect powders to help introduce customers to edible insects in a easy way.
We have an excellent product development manager who has designed delicious products people want to come and purchase again and again, because they taste good. Plus they are also good for you and have bugs in them! We have also been working with celebrity chefs to develop recipes for our website and eBook. The eBook will contain some fantastic (not scary) ways to include edible insects in your cooking at home.
Your eBook aims to help people include insects in their everyday diet easily. What’s a good recipe for first-time insect eaters?
A good way to try insects for the first time is in powdered form. It helps you overcome those initial mental barriers when it comes to eating insects. If you take your favorite curry, stir fry, cookie or shake and add an insect powder to it, you are still getting the delicious tastes that you love with that dish, but you are also adding extra sustainable nutrients! The key to attracting more people into eating insects is to provide the unfamiliar ingredient in a familiar way.
What are the main goals that you want to accomplish with Edible Bug Shop?
The main goal of our business is to help educate people. With education comes action and we strongly believe that educating the public and children in particular, we will be able to move forward as an industry and provide our yummy bugs for the future generations.