The scent of herbs and spices hangs in the air. The plates are plain, but the food is a supernova for the tastebuds: fresh ravioli with fried onion rings and sun-dried tomatoes atop a turmeric-saffron sauce. Inside, the ravioli are bursting with the delicate flavor of fresh crab… which, apparently, is what great diving beetle tastes like. The name of the restaurant? Insects in the backyard. Here, bugs are haute cuisine, and customers can’t get enough.
The idea isn’t new to this one little eatery in Bangkok, of course: More than two billion people worldwide consider insects a perfectly legitimate food. They’re rich in protein, which is a crucial component of the human diet. Here in Europe, though, insects are still pretty low on our list of preferred protein sources. “Sustainable” food is trendy, though, right? Well, sure… but when the trendy food has eight legs, even the most open-minded sustainable-food enthusiasts get skittish. Too unfamiliar, too gross, too Naked and Afraid. But a few start-ups have recognized the enormous potential insect fare represents, and are combating the “ew” factor with innovative creations ranging from bug burgers to larva noodles.
Creepy, crawly, yummy
Fresh rolls, ripe tomatoes, juicy patties… yeah, burgers pretty much always sound like a good idea. The people at Bugfoundation know it, too, and now they’ve found a way of making insects fast food-friendly. You’d never guess by looking at it, but Germany’s first insect burger main ingredient is a blend of buffalo worms and soy protein. Bugfoundation is selling its burgers in several major supermarket chains and delivering to restaurants in Belgium, and it’s well on its way to making the leap into German food service. Burger outside, bugs inside: overcoming customer inhibitions is all about presentation, and that’s the company’s recipe for success. Most people probably would never try insects otherwise, apart from maybe on vacation in Thailand, to have a story to tell at the bar afterward. “Bleahhh, no way, I could never…!” is more or less the reaction they expect to get. Proponents of insect cuisine want to counter the idea of eating bugs being a test of courage, to help people see insects as a normal, natural ingredient. Creative dishes and unusual compositions are the best way to get rid of that mental “gross-out” barrier. After that, all that’s left is the taste.
Take Gourmet Grubb, for example. This new Cape Town-based company makes unbelievably good ice cream: rich chocolate, smooth peanut butter, flavorful chai latte. They’re creamy, they’re delicious, and they’re… made of black soldier fly larvae. EntoMilk, it’s called, and the company hopes it will revolutionize people’s attitudes towards insect fare. Rich in protein, no sugar or carbohydrates, plenty of vitamins and minerals—it would all be so wonderful if it didn’t make you think about… larvae. Gourmet Grubb is handling it with aplomb and framing black soldier fly larvae ice cream as a lifestyle, complete with testimonials by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman. Their success speaks for itself: EntoMilk is taking social media by storm.
Bugs for world peace
The “insects as a superfood” strategy is picking up steam as well. The US and Asia are pioneers in that regard, with other countries gradually catching on. And for good reason— the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been touting insects as a food source for years. Their arguments are pretty compelling, too: Insects are a high-quality source of protein, and contain valuable vitamins and minerals like magnesium, iron, and zinc. Moreover, farming them is much more environmentally friendly than raising most other livestock. Grasshoppers, for example, require only a twelfth of the food that cattle do to produce the same amount of protein, and only half as much food as pigs or poultry. They also need a lot less water. The space-saving benefits are pretty obvious, too—insect farming operations are compact enough that they can even be run in urban environments.
Besides being a potential super-food or a trendy ice cream ingredient, creepy-crawlies may be able to solve a much more serious problem: insects offer a way of feeding huge numbers of people and animals, making them an important weapon in the battle against world hunger. At the same time, raising and collecting insects represents an avenue for creating jobs in areas where few other options exist.
More cricket, dear? It’s about changing mentalities
Bug-noshing may have a bright future in Germany: in a large-scale study conducted by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, 40 percent of respondents could imagine eating insects, and 10 percent would even gladly make our many-legged friends a regular part of their diets. (Source)
The more processed the bugs, the lower the gross-out level, of course: very few people want to gaze deep into a cricket’s eyes before popping it into their mouths. People have a much easier time with insects when they’re fried, pulverized, or in burger form. And history shows that what we call revolting today might be a delicacy tomorrow. It was only around thirty years ago that most people still considered sushi gross. Nowadays, obviously, it’s all the rage. That’s how quickly an entire society’s tastes can change! And if you’ve ever seen a squid or a shrimp up close, you know that mealworms are almost cute by comparison.
It’s all a matter of practice. You don’t have to jump right in with tarantula (it tastes like fish, incidentally, and is available canned). Why not start with a few green ants, which have a nice lemony flavor? Some bugs taste like bacon, others are minty fresh—just imagine the culinary possibilities!
Since January 2018, insects have been considered a novel food, so they can be sold commercially after inspection (Source). We’re not sure whether we’ll all be eating buffalo worms instead of buffalo wings one day, but insects definitely have a lot to offer in terms of nutrition and sustainability. And as far as taste goes, insects are a whole new world of culinary variety just waiting to be discovered. Just don’t bug out at the thought of eating them.
Further trends you need to know: