IKEA Is Betting Bugs Are the Future of Burgers

SPACE10, a research and innovation lab affiliated with IKEA, came up with two types of what they call Neatballs; one is made with bugs and the other is plant-based. (Photo: Kasper Kristoffersen for SPACE10)

Earlier this month, Sonic rolled out the Sonic Slinger, a burger made of a blend of beef and mushrooms. Mushrooms make up 25 to 30 percent of the burger. Because more of the patty is plant-based, it has less fat and calories than a traditional burger. It also has a smaller carbon footprint.

The Slinger is one step toward making fast food more environmentally friendly, but SPACE10, a research and innovation lab affiliated with IKEA, is making giant leaps in the same direction. They're not working with mushrooms, though; they're focused on bugs and algae.

Before I go on, I need to get one issue of the way. It's time to stop factoring in the ick factor when we talk about culinary bugs. We need to get over it. Insects are mainstream fare for people in many other cultures. They're a viable source of protein that requires significantly less natural resources to produce than animal-based proteins, especially meat from cows. It's estimated that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to create one pound of beef, but it only takes one gallon of water to create one pound of insect protein.

So let's not look at some of SPACE10's ideas, which are still in the test kitchen phase, as gross. Let's look at them with an open mind and — as they describe it — consider it the fast food of the future.

Crispy Bug Ball

Back in 2016, SPACE10 introduced the Crispy Bug Ball on its blog, a meatball made from insects. With that post, they commented that over 80 percent of the world's nations eat over 1,000 species of insects. Those insects are generally lower in fat and higher in protein than traditional meats. It was just one of eight meatballs of the future they came up with, including a meatball made of algae and one that was 3-D printed from proteins like algae, beet leaves or insects.

The Bug Burger

Space10 bug burger
Mealworms are considered street food in Asia. The food lab is taking them in a different direction and grinding them up to use as protein in a burger. Each patty contains 100g of beetroot, 50g of parsnip, 50g of potatoes, and 50g of mealworms. (Photo: Kasper Kristoffersen for SPACE10)

The Bug Burger is a Crispy Bug Ball "cranked up a notch." The burger is created from beetroot, parsnips, potatoes and mealworms topped with relish, beetroot and blackcurrant ketchup, chive spread and hydroponic salad mix. It's also served on a white-flour bun. (I suppose with all the other nutrition in there, they felt okay skipping the whole-grains.)

The folks who created the IKEA Bug Burger are so confident that it's delicious that they declared, "One bite, and we believe you’ll be crawling back for more."

The Dogless Hot Dog

Space10 hotdog
The Dogless Dog includes a bun made from spirulina and a 'dog' made from baby carrots, beet and berry ketchup, mustard and turmeric cream, roasted onions, cucumber salad, and a herb salad mix. (Photo: Kasper Kristoffersen for SPACE10)

I'm not so sure I'd consider this a hot dog alternative, but the folks at SPACE10 do. Inside a bun made from the uber-nutritious micro-algae spirulina are "dried and glazed baby carrots, beet and berry ketchup, mustard and turmeric cream, roasted onions, cucumber salad, and a herb salad mix."

Other healthy, sustainable culinary innovations the SPACE10 lab is working on include Neatballs that use local produce like carrots, parsnips and beets or alternative proteins; LOKAL Salad made with microgreens grown in the hydroponic farm in the basement of the lab; and Microgreen Ice Cream, using those same hydroponically-grown microgreens along with juice and a small amount of sugar.

The folks at SPACE10 say all of these dishes are not only healthy and sustainable, but also delicious. Of course, the public hasn't had the chance to weigh in on that yet. None of these foods are available in any IKEA cafes yet, but they plan to roll them out soon, starting with the Dogless Hot Dog.