Future food: Could edible bee larvae help feed the world by 2050?

By Nathan GRAY

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/darios44
© iStock/darios44
The edible larvae and pupae of honey bees has a ‘nutty’ flavour, high nutritional value and protein quality similar to beef, say researchers.

The new study, published inthe Journal of Apicultural Research,​ shows how honey bee brood – the larvae and pupae of drones – has great potential as a food source in addition to providing recommendations and research protocols that focus on the production of worker and drone brood for human consumption.

With the human population set to reach 9 billion by 2050, and the concept of eating insects gaining wider attention and acceptance globally thanks to a raft of studies and innovative start ups that use insect-based ingredients, the Danish research team noted that that they hope the study acts as an introduction of the honey bee brood “as a realistic addition to a more sustainable food industry.”

“Honey bees and their products are appreciated throughout the world,”​ said lead author Professor Annette Bruun Jensen of the University of Copenhagen. “Honey bee brood and in particular drone brood, a by-product of sustainable Varroa mite control, can therefore pave the way for the acceptance of insects as a food in the western world.”

Bruun Jensen and her colleagues noted that bee brood is already eaten as a delicacy in many countries, including Mexico, Thailand and Australia. They added that it has a nutty flavour with a crunchy texture when eaten cooked or dried, and is a versatile ingredient used in soups and egg dishes.

“The high nutritional value of honey bee larvae and pupae that can be compared to beef by its protein quality and quantity is among the main reasons for using it as an alternative food source,”​ they wrote.

“The near omnipresence of honey bees around the world and its long documented relationship with man could potentially accelerate the acceptance of insects as a foodstuff,”​ the Danish team added. 

Nutrition and gastronomy

Acording to Bruun Jensen and her team, approximately 2,000 of insect species are consumed in at least 113 countries.

“By no means are insects a “new” food to humanity and their potential for improving global food systems by diversifying our food supplies is considerable high,”​ they suggested.

Furthermore, they note that honey bee brood is valued for its rich nutritional composition of proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, “as well as its pleasing taste and versatility in culinary preparations.”

Indeed, the team noted that honey bee brood is a versatile ingredient that can be used whole or blended, “and can be processed using wet or dry heat, acid or fermentation techniques.”

Production methods

The team noted that in certain regions of the world, drone brood removal has become part of regular hive maintenance by beekeepers as a strategy for managing populations of the varroa mite (Varroa destructor​), which are widely recognized as the most harmful parasite affecting honey bees globally.

“This practice makes honey bee drone brood a by-product, producing an abundant source of farmed insects with untapped potential,”​ said the team.

Furthermore, they suggested that the use of drone brood as a food source could revitalise the beekeeping industry by providing new sources of revenues.

They added that brood farming has a number of advantages, including the relatively little arable space and low financial investment required to set up hives. Additionally, research on honey bee biology and breeding also has a long history compared to other candidates for insect farming, they said.

The Danish scientists added that storage, shelf life and safety are also important considerations – adding that due to their high fat content, larvae and pupae could go rancid if not properly removed from contact with oxygen.

“Yet research has shown that they can be frozen and stored for up to 10 months without severe loss or change of taste,”​ they said.

Source: Journal of Apicultural Research 

Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1080/00218839.2016.1226606
“Standard methods for Apis mellifera brood as human food”
Authors: Annette Bruun Jensen

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2 comments

Serious Flawed?

Posted by PvW,

Drone removal is ok when done twice in a season. When the drone brood is capped, frame is removed and frozen for several days. Then, thawed to room temperature and re-installed in the brood chamber second frame in. Colony will consume all the nutritious drones. Method is one part of IPM program to control mites.

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serious flawed!

Posted by Jonas,

Drone removal to control varroa is a disaster for bees who are already under stress. The drone are the males bees, the fewer males bees there are the poorer the queens mate, the more sick bees become as the queens need to mate with many bees to be genetically strong.

I know beekeepers who can't understand why their queens no longer mate properly. They also practice extensive drone removal.

Bees can hardly feed themselves nowadays let alone the world. In 40 years of beekeeping I have seen a massive drop in honey yield from bee. Harvesting males drone is a complete non starter.

The primary goal of bee brood is not to make food for other animals but to create bees to maintain the colony.

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