Scientists have discovered home farmed mealworms (beetle larvae) are a healthy alternative to beef.

An Austrian company called "Livin Farms" has developed a new home farming device that can make dinner on the table with its "Edible Insect Desktop Hive".

In contrast to the kitchen-scale devices many people use these days to grow their own vegetables, the insect hive can grow surplus amounts of food to provide many meals a week. It can harvest between 200 and 500 grams of mealworms a week, which is enough of a substitute of meat in four or five dishes.

The hive is available with a starter kit of "microlivestock" and controls the temperature inside for the bugs to breathe and thrive properly. On pushing a button, the mealworms come out in a harvest drawer that cools them. Then, the bugs should be placed in the freezer and later fried, mixed with soup, smoothies or bug-filled burgers.

Katharina Unger, the designer and founder of "Livin Farms", said most diseases come from animal production houses, and "growing your own means knowing exactly what you eat".

While growing traditional meat requires gallons of water, the bugs can be fed kitchen scraps. Furthermore, a burger might need 74 square feet of land for cultivating cattle feed, but the insect hive is tiny and can be put on the desk itself.

"A pig cannot easily be raised on your balcony, insects can. With their benefits, insects are one part of the solution to make currently inefficient industrial-scale production of meat obsolete," said Unger.

She said a few hundred people, primarily those who are health-obsessed, have already pre-ordered the insect hive.

She cited the examples of potato, sushi and tofu that were once considered ugly and obscure, but emerged to become staple foods for several people across the world.

She said food is about "perception and cultural associations", and "within only a short time and the right measures, it can be rebranded".

"Growing insects in our hive at home is our first measure to make insects a healthy and sustainable food for everyone," quoted her as saying.