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

© 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

Related News

© iStock/bhofack

UMFHA tells fake manuka honey to buzz off

Last year, a majority of respondents said they would eat chicken, fish or pork from animals fed on an insect-based diet.

Would consumers eat animals fed on insect protein?

Could lab-grown meat provide one solution? Or is its commercialisation too far off?

Lab meat, plant proteins and insects: Which alternative proteins will feed the world?

Two billion people already consume insects directly, according to the FAO

Insects in animal feed? EU project calls for law change to improve meat sustainability

Even small amounts of bee pollen can increase the health proposition of biscuits without hindering taste, say researchers

Bee pollen may up biscuits’ protein, fiber and polyphenol game: Researchers

Study delivers fresh bee population warnings over pesticide use

Study delivers fresh bee population warnings over pesticide use

Research has again linked the low level sue of neonicotinoids to bee colony collapse disorder.

Harvard study backs link between neonicotinoids and bee population collapse

Bee population size is 'just one factor' that will affect food security - with other land management issues either helping or hindering bee polination

Bee population size is just one production factor, researchers warn

Using honey as a sweetener ticks all three key boxes: it's natural, is low in sugar and has a great taste, according to Just Bee co-founder Joe Harper. © iStock

Just Bee taps into sugar backlash with honey-sweetened water

Related Products

See more related products

Comments (2)

PvW - 01 Dec 2016 | 11:05

Serious Flawed?

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.

01-Dec-2016 at 23:05 GMT

Jonas - 30 Nov 2016 | 05:27

serious flawed!

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.

30-Nov-2016 at 17:27 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.