Chefs Incorporate Insect-Based Foods in Mediterranean Cuisine

With the approval of the Europe's first cricket flour factory, chefs are seeking new ways to add a sustainable protein to traditional dishes.

Mating crickets
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 15, 2023 18:31 UTC
Mating crickets

After the recent go-ahead from the European Commission for a factory’s cricket flour pro­duc­tion process, the prospect of eat­ing insects, which advo­cates argue are a more sus­tain­able way of pro­duc­ing pro­tein than live­stock, and mix­ing them in tra­di­tional food spe­cial­ties has heated a spir­ited debate.

Cricket pasta is on its way. And it is good- Carlotta Totaro Fila, owner, Alia

While many pop­u­la­tions around the world eat insects, such as in Asia and Latin America, the major Mediterranean cuisines lag behind,” Roberto Cavasin, an Italian food blog­ger focused on insect food, told Olive Oil Times.

The French invested in breed­ing tech­niques, insect fac­to­ries and trans­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies,” he added. And they sell insect-derived pasta abroad. As a result, they are far ahead com­pared to Italy, where things are mov­ing only now.” 

See Also:Spanish Co. Introduces Vegan Cheese Made With Olive Oil

Cavasin argues that Italy has long been known for its diverse offer­ing of high-qual­ity food spe­cial­ties and inno­va­tion in food research. He believes that turn­ing insect-based foods into gourmet cui­sine should be no excep­tion. 

Billions of peo­ple eat insects around the world,” he said. We can do it our way, adding insect food to upgrade the Mediterranean diet with new oppor­tu­ni­ties turned into deli­cious new serv­ings.”

Extra vir­gin olive oil is the main ingre­di­ent of the Mediterranean diet,” Cavasin added. Whatever your insect food will be, you will need olive oil for cook­ing, as a top­ping or a fin­ish­ing touch.” 


Cricket flour (Photo: Carlotta Totaro Fila)

Given the healthy qual­i­ties of both prod­ucts, insects and extra vir­gin olive oil, such a pair­ing is des­tined to have an impact [on con­sumer aware­ness],” he con­tin­ued. 

Casavin com­pared insect-based foods to lob­sters, point­ing out that the seafood del­i­cacy was once con­sid­ered a low-qual­ity food offer­ing. It took time to have it become a del­i­cacy,” he said.

Recent research has shown that edi­ble insects rep­re­sent a safe source of pro­teins and vit­a­mins, with 1.7 kilo­grams of crick­ets yield­ing a kilo­gram of pro­tein. It takes 7.7 kilo­grams of tra­di­tional meat for the same result.

Additionally, land use, water use and pol­lut­ing emis­sions are dozens of times lower with insects than with usual live­stock. Moreover, insects eat far less than con­ven­tional live­stock.

That means ani­mal feed pro­duc­tion can be dras­ti­cally altered, sub­stan­tially reduc­ing its envi­ron­men­tal impact com­pared to con­ven­tional live­stock. Interestingly, insects are also increas­ingly becom­ing an ingre­di­ent in tra­di­tional ani­mal feed.

Apart from being a good source of pro­tein and fiber, most insects con­tain a sub­stan­tial amino acid com­po­si­tion – rang­ing from 46 to 98 per­cent – includ­ing glu­tamic and aspar­tic acids, lysine, tryp­to­phan, thre­o­nine and pheny­lala­nine.

Amino acid

An amino acid is a type of organic mol­e­cule that serves as the build­ing block of pro­teins. There are 20 dif­fer­ent types of amino acids that are com­monly found in pro­teins, each with a unique side chain that gives it dis­tinct chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal prop­er­ties.

Recent research pub­lished in Antioxidants found the nutri­tional value of cricket pow­der may be con­sid­ered equiv­a­lent to milk pro­tein, eggs and cows’ milk.” The study also found sev­eral antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties in the pow­der. 

Furthermore, insects are an excel­lent source of fat, mak­ing up as much as 50 per­cent of the total dehy­drated mass of an insect.


Still, up to 70 per­cent of such con­tents are polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, con­sump­tion of which is con­sid­ered essen­tial for human health.

That is why polyun­sat­u­rated fat-filled insects paired with the monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids of extra vir­gin olive oils are a sig­nif­i­cantly health­ier alter­na­tive to con­ven­tional food pair­ings.

As a result, dishes con­tain­ing insects and extra vir­gin olive oil are actively being explored.

The insects cur­rently inves­ti­gated in the West as the most viable alter­na­tives to con­ven­tional food include crick­ets, grasshop­pers, locusts, cock­roaches, ter­mites, bee­tles, cicadas, moths, stink bugs and flies.

Some chefs are work­ing hard to incor­po­rate some of these insects into tra­di­tional dishes, such as pasta and pizza, to help increase the­ory appeal to every­day con­sumers.


Cricket flour pizza dough

Cricket pasta is on its way,” Carlotta Totaro Fila, an Apulian olive grower and owner of the Italian insect fac­tory Alia, told Olive Oil Times. Cooked in the usual way, cricket pasta can be sea­soned with a mul­ti­ple choice of com­mon Mediterranean sauces and top­pings, such as extra vir­gin olive oil, toma­toes and Parmigiano.” 

And it is good,” she added. As we exper­i­mented with many dif­fer­ent recipes made from our cricket pow­der, we found how ver­sa­tile the prod­uct was. It tends to add a slightly nutty fla­vor which enhances the expe­ri­ence.” 

Pasta flour can par­tially be made of insect-derived pow­ders. These are made by freez­ing the crick­ets, which kills them quickly, and then expos­ing the frozen insects to a few sec­onds of extremely high tem­per­a­tures inside a vac­uum.

Cricket flour isn’t flour as we usu­ally con­ceive the prod­uct,” Totara Fila said. That is why we named it cricket pow­der.”


Tagliatelle Quadrata made with cricket flour

Alternatively, insects can eas­ily be added to the sauce top­ping a con­ven­tional pasta. Experts believe immea­sur­able chances to inno­vate await European chefs will­ing to exper­i­ment.

However, Totaro Fila sug­gested that there is still plenty of work to do to con­vince con­sumers about the ben­e­fits of switch­ing to insect-based foods.

Creativity is impor­tant,” added Cavasin, the food blog­ger. We do not need to rein­vent tra­di­tion. Instead, we can expand our hori­zons, look at new oppor­tu­ni­ties and make the Mediterranean diet even health­ier and more sus­tain­able.”

Think of the deli­cious cricket pizza,” he added. If you want to inno­vate at home, you just need some cricket flour to add to the con­ven­tional flour. I dis­cov­ered that the pizza dough rises per­fectly with up to 30 per­cent cricket flour and will con­vey a light nutty nuance.” 

Cavasin added that top­ping the cricket-based dish with extra vir­gin olive oil, toma­toes and moz­zarella results in an authen­tic Italian pizza.

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