Now that eating insects is the new trend, have you ever wondered why the western world has never embraced edible insects in the past? If insects have been consumed for thousands of years by different ethnic groups around the world, then why did the western world avoid edible insects? As it happens, insects have not always been considered suitable for the human diet in the western part of the globe. According to Mareike Janiak, a doctoral candidate in the anthropology department at Rutgers University, medical experts in the west have long considered insects to be indigestible. It was once believed that all mammals lacked a particular enzyme that was necessary for digesting an insect’s exoskeleton. This was long held as the truth in previous centuries as people did not travel the globe often enough to encounter other cultures that consider insects to be a normal part of the human diet.
The claim that humans and other mammals cannot digest insect exoskeletons was challenged years ago by research into bats and mice. Past research shows that both bats and mice have no problem digesting insect exoskeletons. Now, research on primates has proven that most mammals are entirely capable of digesting insects. Recent research has found that nearly all living primates possess a gene that is responsible for the production of an enzyme that breaks down insect exoskeletons. Researchers examined the genomes of thirty four primates and found a gene known as CHIA in nearly all of them. This gene is responsible for producing a digestive enzyme that breaks down chitin. Chitin is the name of the natural material that makes up insect exoskeletons. Researchers also found that the most evolved primates normally possessed one copy of the CHIA gene; while less evolved primates possessed three different copies of the CHIA gene. This finding indicates that insects were a primary source of food for our early ancestors.
Do you think that the western world’s aversion to edible insects is more psychological than practical?
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