In an unusual turn of culinary events, edible insects are shaping one of today’s top trends in sustainable food sourcing. Crickets, grasshoppers, ants, even earthworms, are being dry roasted, fried, sautéed and turned into flour. This type of cuisine might not be for everyone, but if you can overcome the initial aversion, it just might be worth the effort.
What do insects offer in terms of food value? They are high in protein, vitamins and minerals, low in fat and cheap to produce. They may be the answer to improving the world’s nutrition, particularly when it comes to protein and iron deficiencies. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, at least 2 billion people worldwide are already regularly eating insects as a part of their daily diet.
That figure doesn’t include most of us in the Western World, however, who are just getting used to the idea of eating bugs. And there are so many varieties to try! According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are an estimated 1,462 species of recorded edible insects, including arachnids (tarantulas) and centipedes, with thousands of others still yet to be discovered.
The ‘I’ List
Some of the species on the edible insects list include crickets, grasshoppers, ants, caterpillars and a variety of worms, with crickets being by far the most popular. Often described as having a ‘hazelnut or roasted sunflower taste,’ the insects are packed with protein. In fact, a 100 gram cricket contains 12.9 grams of protein and many essential minerals like iron, riboflavin and niacin, with only 5.5 grams of fat.
Crobar, described as a ‘revolutionary protein bar, containing cricket flour and other natural ingredients’ is an example of how insects can serve as both food staples and supplements in the future. Created by marathon runner Christine Spliid, Crobar contains 10 grams of protein and more than three times the iron of beef.
Another edible insect playing an increasing role in sustainable diets is the grasshopper. The high-jumping bugs are easy to raise (inhabiting similar terrain to crickets) and simple to process and prepare. Normally roasted or deep fried in butter, they are described by grasshopper-lovers as having a delicate nutty flavor. It’s recommended to harvest them in the early morning, though, before they get a ‘jumpstart’ on the day.
Most of us have heard about “chocolate ants,” but probably not lemon ants. Denizens of the Amazon rainforest, the tiny brown edible insects have a vague lemony taste that is described as “pleasantly sour.” The distinctive taste derives from an acid the ants secrete when threatened. Lemon ant lovers eat them raw, right off the tree.
Pushing the boundaries
Edible insect cuisine can really push people’s boundaries and many would-be bug eaters draw the line at worms. Yet, many worms, and mealworms and earthworms in particular, are packed with protein and are highly nutritious.
Mealworms (not to be confused with the flour beetles that infest your pantry) are the larvae of the mealworm beetle. Since they feed on grain meal, they tend to taste like the grain on which they were raised. To eliminate this factor, mealworm-lovers recommend “starving” the worms for about 24 hours before sautéing them to allow them to absorb the flavor of the oil. Mealworms can also be eaten raw or boiled.
Earthworms are highly nutritious and readily available (since they come out in droves during heavy rains.) They can be added to stir-fries and stews or fried until crispy. One caveat is that their bodies are filled with dirt, so earthworm-lovers recommend soaking them in water for 2-4 hours before cooking. Otherwise, the taste can be bitter.
Is it possible to train ourselves out of our insect food aversion? Other insects I won’t explore here include aphids, slugs and termites, not to mention cockroaches and scorpions, which are popular in China. Whatever your preferences are, it’s important that you purchase your bugs from safe and reliable sources or raise them yourself. Harvesting bugs from the wild can expose you to potential harm from unknown pesticides or other chemical sources.
If you’re ready to add insects to your menu, Insects Are Food is a great source for insect recipes as well as the most up-to-date information on the world of edible insects.
Have you cooked with insects? Have any great recipes you’d like to share?