Eat More Bugs, Save the World
An Indian restaurant in Vancouver is experimenting with cricket-flour chapatis. Chapul, a company in Salt Lake City, says sales of their cricket-packed power bars have soared since taking flight last year. The Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen is whipping up moth mousse and bee-larvae mayonnaise. A three-star French restaurant is serving mealworms with cod.
On the heels of a 150-page report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this spring, the case for entomophagy seems stronger than ever, and trend-setters are joining the swarm.
The report outlines a host of health benefits for bugs as a source of protein. Unsaturated fatty acids in mealworms are comparable to fish and higher than beef or pork. They’re full of vitamins and free of pesticides — if farmed or gathered with care.
Indirect benefits may be even more compelling. It only takes two pounds of feed to make a pound of cricket meat. Beef cattle on average scarf down nine or ten pounds of feed to put on the same weight. Cattle burps, along with the vast tracts of land cleared for pasture, account for 17 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire transportation industry worldwide. Oh, and – so far — there’s no such thing as a grasshopper flu.
Paul Vantomme, FAO senior forestry officer and a co-author of the report, said since insect farming uses only a fraction of the land needed for other livestock, it’ll be a critical part of the planet’s future diet. He said business as usual, on the other hand, would be disastrous. “We would actually have to clear all available land” to feed the world’s population in 2050, he said.
Bug farming could even help tackle social and economic equality. While industrial farms are growing in size, requiring larger up-front investment to compete, “anyone with $10 in their pocket can start breeding insects anywhere,” Vantomme said.
The trick, in squeamish western nations, is how to grow demand. The cultural barrier is huge. Western countries lag far behind the rest of the world, where an estimated two billion people already eat insects. Vantomme said with food trends, change has to start with adventurous early adopters.
“It happened with sushi. Who would eat raw fish in the U.S. 30 or 40 years ago?” Though the disgust factor is significant, it’s not insurmountable, he said. “After all, if you can eat shrimp, why can’t you eat their nephews?”
So, what’s Vantomme’s favorite insect snack?
“Crickets marinated in soy sauce, with a little bit of salt, to go with a cold beer on a warm summer evening.”
Get More Bugs into Your Kitchen
Looking for more recipes? As it so happens, an updated edition of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, published by Ten Speed Press, hits bookshelves this week.
As something of an entomophagy evangelist, Gordon hopes to see insect agriculture develop in the future.
“Done right, we could definitely produce more protein from insects than from cows or chickens, and with much lower impacts on the environment.”
But gathering wild insects appropriately requires some extra thought. To ensure a sustainable populations, he promotes the “one-in-five” approach; only collect one specimen out of every five you see in a given habitat.
During hot summer months, flying termites and ants are a good edible beginner bug, he said. With large wings and distinctive features, these queens-in-waiting are easy to identify and gather. For the most humane treatment, put them in your freezer for a while, then spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake them at around 225 degrees, checking them often to make sure they don’t dry out. Mix with salt for a snack, fold them into a fresh veggie stir fry or sprinkle them on your favorite summer salad like croutons.
“People need to get over their hostile feelings about insects. One way to do that is by studying insects in the wild – spend half an hour watching what a beetle does.”
Ready To Try Some Tasty Experiments?
Fried Green Tomato Hornworms
Yield: 8 servings
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 32 tomato hornworms
- 4 medium green tomatoes, sliced into sixteen 1/4-inch rounds
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- White cornmeal
- 16 to 20 Small basil leaves
- In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the hornworms and fry lightly for about 4 minutes, taking care not to rupture the cuticles of each insect under high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Season the tomato rounds with salt and pepper to taste, then coat with cornmeal on both sides.
- In another large skillet or wok, heat the remaining oil and fry the tomatoes until lightly browned on both sides.
- Top each tomato round with 2 fried tomato hornworms. Garnish with basil leaves and serve immediately. (See photo of finished dish above.)
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, thyme, and tarragon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 pinch freshly ground pepper
- 12 frozen katydids, grasshoppers, or other larger-bodied Orthoptera, thawed
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
- 1 small yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
- Mix all ingredients for the marinade in a nonreactive baking dish. Add the katydids, cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
- When ready to cook, remove the katydids from the marinade and pat dry. Assemble the kabobs by alternately skewering the insects, bell pepper, and onion wedges to create a visually interesting lineup.
- Brush the grill lightly with olive oil. Cook the kabobs 2 or 3 inches above the fire, turning them every two or three minutes and basting them with additional olive oil as required. The exact cooking time will vary, depending on your grill and the type of insects used. However, the kabobs should cook for no longer than 8 or 9 minutes.
White Chocolate And Wax Worm Cookies
- 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups white chocolate chunks or morsels
- 3/4 cup wax worms, thawed
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown and granulated sugars, and vanilla extract until creamy.
- Stir the egg into the butter mixture, then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the white chocolate chunks and half of the wax worms, reserving the rest for garnishing the cookies.
- Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonful onto nonstick baking sheets.
- Gently press 2 or 3 of the remaining wax worms into the top of each cookie.
- Bake until the edges of each cookie are lightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes.
- Let cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.