In Western countries it is the younger generation that show more willingness to try new food products, including edible insects.
Edible insects could be a solution to avoiding a global food crisis if consumers can overcome barriers such as the "ick factor", a new study has found.
Insects are an environmentally sustainable food source, with a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to meat production, the report published in the Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety journal revealed.
But attitudes towards eating insects and current farming techniques and technologies need to change if edible insects are to become a common food source, researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of Veracruz, in Mexico, said.
The report found that edible insect cultivation remains rare in Western countries, where eating insects is still considered unusual, while negative perceptions have taken root in some countries where insects have been eaten traditionally, with the younger population associating it with poverty.
The best way of normalising edible insects is to target the preferences of the younger generation, who showed interest in using edible insects in unrecognisable forms, such as in flour or powder used in cookies or energy drinks, the authors said.
Another successful strategy to making edible insects become part of the mainstream is to serve them as snacks between meals, the report found.
The study, Edible Insects Processing: Traditional and Innovative Technologies, was carried out as worldwide food security faces serious risks, including the rapidly changing climate and an expanding global population.
The authors reviewed current insect farming methods, processing technologies, commercialisation techniques and current perceptions towards entomophagy - the practice of eating insects.
They revealed that edible insects have a high nutritional value and are a viable option as a sustainable source of protein.
Insect farming, which can be carried out in urban areas, uses much smaller amounts of land, water and feed and produces far fewer greenhouse gases compared to meat production.
But, if edible insects are to become a common food source, more development is needed to make the leap from wild harvesting to large-scale indoor farming that could meet demand in an economically efficient, safe and sustainable manner, the study found.
Dr Alan-Javier Hernandez-Alvarez, one of the study's authors, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, said: "Edible insects are fascinating. Although humans have eaten insects throughout history, and approximately two billion people around the globe regularly eat them today, research on the subject is relatively new.
"Edible insects could be the solution to the problem of how to meet the growing global demand for food in a sustainable way.
"The 'ick factor' remains one of the biggest barriers to edible insects becoming the norm. Eating behaviour is shaped largely during early childhood and in Western countries, eating insects, especially in whole and recognisable forms, remains something seen mostly on TV shows."
Dr Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne, study author from the University of Veracruz, added: "In Western countries it is the younger generation that show more willingness to try new food products, including edible insects.
"The 'foodies boom' and the rise of veganism and flexitarians have opened the door to alternative food sources.
"Promoting insects as an environmentally sustainable protein source appeals to the current attitudes in the younger generation."
She continued: "But if edible insects are to become a common food source, current farming techniques and technologies could struggle with the demand and need to be expanded."
Amy Murphy is a reporter with PA.