A start-up has developed a plug-in kitchen appliance for raising mealworms as a sustainable and healthy alternative source of protein. It continually produces 200-500g of mealworms per week – enough to supplant meat in around four meals – and the system is fed on oats and vegetable scraps.
Insects are part of the diets of two billion people around the world and are commonly eaten in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In western industrialized countries eating insects is still broadly seen as niche and undesirable, but there is growing interest from chef’s, food sustainability experts and those pursuing optimal nutrition through diets like the ‘paleo’ diet.
Insects are cold-blooded which makes them very efficient at converting feed to body mass: on average, 2kg of feed is required to produce 1kg of insects, to produce 1kg of beef it takes 8-10kg of feed.
Nutritionally insects have equivalent protein content to meat and fish and are high in micro-nutrients and fatty acids.
LIVIN farms, hope to create a food revolution by promoting edible insects worldwide through their countertop mealworm farm: the ‘Hive’.
The project has raised the $100,000 goal of it’s Kickstarter campaign with just under a month to go. Around 150 pre-orders have been placed; in November 2016 the units will be shipped to bug-munching early adopters in multiple countries and will then retail for an estimated $699.
The Hive uses fans to maintain the optimum microclimate and reduce odours. ‘Output’ from the mealworms collected in the dirt trays can be used to feed houseplants. It’s designed to make the growing and harvesting of the mealworms as clean, easy and aesthetically pleasing as possible.
Designer Katharina Unger previously developed an award winning insect farm for raising black soldier fly larvae and worked on insect breeding in Africa and Hawaii before co-founding LIVIN farms and developing the ‘Hive’. The mealworm was chosen as an ideal ‘gateway insect’ for first timers due to its ‘neutral’, ‘nutty’ taste, the ability to grow a large amount in a small space and the fact it’s already eaten in multiple places in the world.
The ‘Hive’ is presented as both a sustainability solution and healthy; it’s creators emphasize the nutritional benefits of mealworms as a ‘superfood’ but also control for consumers over what they’re eating.
Unger says she wants to empower people to grow their own food at home and become more independent of the food system; pointing to the land footprint of animal agriculture as well as anti-biotics use and pathogens associated with intensive livestock farming.
The project is being backed by the HAX hardware accelerator, the Autodesk Cleantech Partner program and CrossThePacific. Unger has presented the concept at a TedxVienna event.
Image credit: LIVIN Farms