Roberto Flore has collected edible insects from all over the world. Photo: Roberto Flore.

Can insects feed the world

Friday 15 Mar 19

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Roberto Flore
FoodLab Manager, DTU Skylab
Office for Innovation and Sector Services
+4552 73 22 53

About FoodLab

FoodLab is based at DTU Lyngby Campus, in connection with the DTU Skylab student innovation environment.


The laboratory aims to promote entrepreneurship, business partnerships, and new research in the fields of food and technology.

Putting insects on the menu requires more than just good presentation, according to Roberto Flore, a renowned chef who has travelled far and wide to explore the world of edible insects.

He has tasted termites in Kenya, ant eggs in Mexico, and giant hornets in Japan. World-famous chef and researcher Roberto Flore from Sardinia is currently in Kongens Lyngby, heading up DTU’s new international food innovation initiative—FoodLab—at DTU Skylab.

He was head of Nordic Food Lab for four years, which was co-founded in 2008 by renowned Noma chef René Redzepi. In this forum, Roberto Flore was at the forefront of the New Nordic Cuisine global trend, and one of Nordic Food Lab’s projects was to investigate edible insects.

Roberto Flore and his colleagues flew around the world to explore the insect-eating traditions of various countries. In addition to a documentary and two cookbooks, this also led to some important insights, Flore explains:

“It is estimated that over two billion people around the world eat insects as part of their traditional diet—not out of need, but because insects are considered a delicacy. It was surprising to find that it is not only in Western culture that there are barriers to eating insects. They also exist among insect eaters. For example, Africans wouldn’t dream of tucking into the insects that people eat in Japan,” says Roberto Flore.

More than nutrition

Insects on the menu—at least as an idea—really took off in the Western world at the beginning of this decade, in part following a publication on edible insects by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2013.

Insects were presented here as the solution to feeding a global population of almost 10 billion people in 2050. Roberto Flore feels it is a little simplistic to think that if people begin to crunch on grasshoppers and bake with mealworms, we will reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ‘Zero Hunger’. “People need more than just to fill their stomachs,” says the gourmet chef.

“Food also has to be inviting and delicious. Food is about much more than consuming nutrients. If we invented a pill that gave us everything our body needs, people would still prefer a meal,” says Roberto Flore.

Alternative protein sources

Flore believes there is a general need to find better ways to produce proteins, or to find alternative protein sources. He also sees a growing popular awareness of this fact.

 Photo: Roberto Flore  

In Japan, the eggs of giant hornets are a delicacy.

Photo: Robert Flore.

However, insects are only one way to add proteins. But if insect-eating is to become household, several factors need to be taken into account:

“It’s not enough to come up with all sorts of ways to prepare and serve insects. We have to also look at the cultures our various dietary traditions flow out of, and the natural environments surrounding the various populations. It’s important that the introduction—or in some cases, reintroduction—of insects has a natural local springboard if we hope to get them on the menu,” explains Roberto Flore. His angle on eating insects—in addition to the nutritional one—thus also includes a humanistic approach to the matter.

Another very important angle is the environment:

“We must make sure that we do not create new environmental problems in our eagerness to replace proteins from cattle, pigs, and chickens with insects. There are currently several large-scale insect production projects underway in the world, which imitate conventional animal food production. We need to look at whether it is a good idea to follow the same approach, or if there is a more sustainable way to produce insects. It makes no sense, having found a food source that requires little space and less water, and is rich in proteins and minerals, to then produce it in a way that negatively impacts the environment.”

Room to make mistakes

As the head of FoodLab, Roberto Flore sees it as his mission to connect all the disciplines—at DTU and off campus—which can take food innovation to a new level. And insects are just part of the picture.

“We will work with insect projects at FoodLab, but also much more. Our food innovation will focus on factors that go beyond ingredients and taste. Food is also about packaging, safety, environmental impacts from production, distribution, and transportation, as well as development of the technology and methods food companies will need in the future.”

The Italian has big ambitions for FoodLab:

“I expect that we will build a high-power innovation environment based on mutual trust. We must dare to make mistakes. That is the nature of innovation. You start with one idea, and end up doing something completely different. FoodLab has to be a place where students meet companies and researchers from all possible fields, and become inspired together to invent completely new solutions.”

Photo: Chris Tonnesen

Roberto Flore has been involved in collecting edible insects from all over the world. At DTU, he heads the FoodLab food innovation initiative.

Photo:Chris Tonnesen.



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