Pasta prepared with mealworms raised in your own home?
The unusual dinner idea could soon be a reality, if Hong Kong entrepreneur Katharina Unger has her way. The 28-year-old is the founder of Livin Farms, a start-up that has been making insect incubators since 2016, and is now working on a compact model to cultivate mealworms it says is suitable for use in kitchens, and in biology classrooms.
"In 2050, we're going to be nine billion people on the planet, so we have to find new solutions to feed ourselves, and to feed the next generations", Unger said. "Insects offer a really great alternative to current meat production because they can be grown on food waste, with very little space, with very little water, and they taste great."
While many people squirm at the prospect of eating insects, they are common fare in countries such as Thailand and China. "They are high in protein and low in cholesterol," said Li Ching, owner of the People of Yunnan restaurant in Hong Kong, adding that he considered deep-fried grasshoppers, stick-bugs and silkworms to be beneficial for his health.
However, Hong Kong-based nutritionist Miles Price says the production of alternative proteins such as insects remains largely unregulated, and this may have significant implications for food safety and consumer acceptance.
"We need to enforce a more rigorous approach to production ... which will give confidence to consumers to say that this is a safe protein source," he said.
Livin Farms believes that their self-contained hive system provides a do-it-yourself solution, as the mealworms can be fed with food scraps, harvested weekly, frozen and then cooked in various ways. This versatility of the inch-long larvae of the mealworm beetle, which is found in many part of the world, is an additional advantage.
"Unlike meats, I can prepare this in two different ways, savoury and sweet", said Livin Farms head of operations Clayton Wong, as he demonstrated cooking mealworms with peppers, tomatoes and onions in a tomato mascarpone pasta sauce. "I think it's really dynamic, I can play around with this."