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Insects are a delicacy in Japan and other parts of Asia. Japanese airline Zipair has introduced two in-flight meals containing crushed cricket powder to promote food sustainability. Photo: Getty Images

In-flight meals made partly from insects a Japanese airline’s contribution to promoting food sustainability

  • Two in-flight meals introduced by budget airline Zipair contain ground-up crickets. To minimise food waste, the burger and pasta dishes are cooked to order
  • The nutritious insects are a more sustainable food source than beef, pork or chicken, and the move is a response to UN’s forecast of animal-based food shortages
Asia travel

Japanese budget airline Zipair is taking its commitment to sustainable development goals to new heights by introducing in-flight meals made with insects.

The airline, a subsidiary of national carrier Japan Airlines that is based at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, started taking reservations in July for two in-flight meals that are made partly of ground-up crickets, widely regarded as a rich source of protein and other nutrients.

The airline is serving a chilli burger with tomato and a pasta dish, both of which include crushed cricket and cost 1,500 yen (US$11.30).

Zipair, which commenced passenger operations in October 2020 and flies from Narita to Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; Bangkok, Thailand; and Honolulu and Los Angeles in the United States, is collaborating with food technology company Gryllus to serve up the unusual meals – and officials say there have been no complaints so far.

Zipair’s new tomato chilli burger contains crickets. Photo: Zipair

“Although we are still reviewing customer feedback, we have received more than 60 purchase orders for the two dishes since they were introduced on July 1,” said Mark Matsumoto, a spokesman for the airline.

Zipair has been inspired to be more adventurous with its in-flight menu as a result of the sustainable development goals for food waste announced by the United Nations in 2015, with Matsumoto saying that the airline feels that measures to protect the environment are its responsibility.

Based at Narita airport near Tokyo, Zipair began operations in late 2020. Photo: Shutterstock
Zipair’s new pasta dish containing crickets. Photo: Zipair

“In line with the target for reduced food losses, Zipair is currently only preparing and loading meals that have been reserved in advance, meaning that we do not load meals based on the number of passengers on each flight,” he said.

“And as Zipair and Gryllus both have the mutual goal of reducing food loss, it made sense for the two companies to collaborate on the development of these meals.

“The UN has reported that in the next 30 years, the global population will reach a level where shortages of animal-based food products will occur, so we will continue to work with companies that are developing and introducing sustainable meal options to contribute to the betterment of society.”

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It took the two companies’ chefs about three months to perfect the recipe for the two dishes, with the aroma of the crushed cricket powder similar to that of soybeans.

Gryllus was set up in 2019 by Takahito Watanabe, a professor of developmental biology at Tokushima University, in southern Japan, with the express objective of raising crickets on an industrial scale and transforming them into a food source.

On its website, the company says its philosophy is to create a “new harmony” that helps solve the problem of protein going to waste, develops a global food cycle and provides healthy food.

Gryllus’ crushed cricket powder also comes by the pouch. Photo: Gryllus

Crickets have traditionally been served as nibbles in rural Japan – a vending machine that sells packets of the insects as snacks made headlines when it was introduced in Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan, this summer – and Gryllus sees them as potentially an important and useful resource.

Raising crickets is environment-friendly, the company says; they require very little land, water or feedstock, while the food conversion rate – the ratio of weight gained to feed consumed – is far superior to that of pigs, beef cattle or chickens.

Watanabe and his researchers are looking into the exact nutritional values of crickets and the best ways in which they can be incorporated into food, with research to date determining that the insects are high in calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamins and dietary fibre.

Inago no Tsukudani, which is made of insects boiled in soy sauce and sugar, is a popular snack in parts of Japan. Photo: Getty Images

As well as being turned into food, crickets can be processed into cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, as well as fertilisers.

Large spiders, weevils, cicadas and even cockroaches are being looked at by other companies as food sources, and Zipair is open-minded about adding more insects to its menu.

“We will continue to review our customer satisfaction levels with our in-flight meals and, if positive reviews follow, there is a high probability that Zipair will expand our sustainable meal selection menu,” Matsumoto said.