Published: August 16, 2017

Helena Bachmann

When you think of Swiss food, chocolate and cheese quickly come to mind. But now a novel food is creating a buzz in this Alpine nation.

Burgers and meatballs made from insects will hit grocery shelves Monday at the Coop supermarket chain. It marks the first wide distribution of bug bites in Europe.

“We have always been at the forefront when it comes to finding new trends and offering innovative products to our customers,” spokesperson Andrea Bergmann told USA TODAY.

The sale of insect-based food was made possible by a new law passed here in May, which allows consumption of crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms — as long as they are bred under strict sanitary conditions.

Though the Federal Office for Food Safety says on its website that no other country in the European Union authorizes the consumption of insects, there are a few locations offering these foods, like the United Kingdom restaurant Grub Kitchen, as well as a handful of outlets in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Insects have long been eaten in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fried spiders are a delicacy in Cambodia, fried or grilled worms are snack foods in Thailand and ants are common in China, Brazil and Mexico.

An estimated 2 billion people worldwide eat insects because of their nutritional value, an important factor in places where conventional food sources are scarce. The United Nations reported that “edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans.”

In the United States, packaged insect food is still a novelty being promoted by entrepreneurs hoping to overcome the “ick” factor with Americans. Most bug consumption in the U.S. occurs inadvertently because insects are processed in other foods and sometimes they are used as ingredients in baking, such as cricket flour.

The burgers and meatballs that will go on sale in Switzerland contain mealworm — the larval form of the beetle. Rice, carrots and various spices are added for taste, which ranges from “spicy to oriental,” according to the products’ manufacturer, Zurich-based Essento Food AG.

Insect burgers are displayed.

Insect burgers are displayed. (Photo: Tina Sturzenegger, Essento)

The company has been testing bug-based recipes for two years. “During our travels, we were struck by the culinary qualities of edible insects,” said Essento’s co-founder Christian Bartsch.

The new products are not cheap. A pack of two burgers and 10 meatballs will cost about $10 —about double the price Coop charges for their traditional counterparts.

The retailer is hoping these foods will fly off the shelves. “We are convinced that there are many ‘foodies’ and open-minded customers in Switzerland, who will try and like insect-based products,” Bergmann said.