A company that produces flour made from crickets has become the first in Italy to be given the green light to sell food made from insects for human consumption, defying Italian food purists and even a government attempt to curb its use.
Josè Francesco Cianni, the chief executive of Nutrinsect, said: “a new page in the history of food has been opened” now that his nutrient-packed flour can be incorporated into an array of food items.
“This is very big news for us,” said Cianni, whose main motive for the business initiative was to provide an alternative, sustainable protein source.
Since 2020, millions of crickets have been raised at the company’s plant in Montecassiano, a town in the central Marche region, where they are heat-treated before being frozen and ground into powder.
Until now, the company has been permitted to sell the flour only for use in pet food.
The EU approved the sale of insects – namely crickets, locusts and darkling beetle larvae – for human consumption in early 2023, sparking a flurry of proposed regulations from the Italian government, including one aimed at ensuring insects are kept away from traditional dishes such as pasta and pizza. “It’s fundamental that these flours are not confused with food made in Italy,” said the agriculture minister Francesco Lollobrigida at the time.
However, by the time the regulations became official at the end of last year, the government had relented, instead imposing strict labelling rules, such as clearly stating the product’s origin and the requirement to use Acheta domesticus, the Latin for house cricket, on packets so as to make it a little less startling to the consumer.
“There was a lot of talk but in the end they did the right thing,” said Cianni, who has invited Lollobrigida “to come and see for himself how healthy and nutritious” the product is.
Packed with proteins and vitamins, insects are increasingly considered a sustainable way to obtain nutrients, with the market for edible insects in Europe forecast to reach €2.7bn (£2.3bn) by 2030.
“It’s good for the environment because the resources required to breed crickets and the spaces used are really small, and so emissions are almost zero,” said Cianni.
Nutrinsect’s cricket flour will be distributed to food supply companies and those across the catering chain. The flour can also be bought online for €6 a packet.
Cianni has been hit with a deluge of messages since receiving the authorisation, some supportive of his initiative and others less so. He said people fear the crickets “have come from far away and are dirty”. “But our cricket flour is 100% made in Italy,” he said. “It will sit very nicely alongside other Italian specialties.”
As for the taste, Cianni said it was similar to “pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, and also a little bit like shrimp”.