Two billion. This – despite the best efforts of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! – is the number of people worldwide who eat insects as part of their regular diet. Healthy, eco-friendly, easy to source, now available in Whole Foods for us lazy westerners – there are plenty of reasons entomophagy is the smart option. And one day it might even be the only option…
‘The world cannot sustain on current levels of meat consumption,’ warns Stefan Gates, author of Insects: An Edible Field Guide. ‘In 20 years, when we’re all eating insects on a massive scale, it’ll be branded as Forest Protein, or Eco Protein – there are millions of people who eat Quorn without knowing it’s actually a fungus. Insects can be expensive to buy in the UK because it’s at gimmick level right now. Once mass farming comes into play, it’ll become incredibly cheap to produce.’
The Aliens On Our Plate
If insects are truly as tasty as those in-the-know claim, why aren’t we ordering butter-covered crickets at the multiplex already? Gates tells RISING the answer lies in preconceptions built up over decades: ‘We’re instilled with fear of insects from childhood. Look how we anthropomorphize most animals. We have Daisy the Cow and Peppa Pig – it’s really fucking difficult to do that with a locust. They move very strangely, they have compound eyes, trisection bodies, they’re just not like us. We don’t see them as food. Meanwhile, in northern Thailand, kids take crickets to school for lunch.’
‘We have Daisy the Cow and Peppa Pig – it’s really fucking difficult to do that with a locust’
Easy as it is buying these snacks (normally freeze-dried), Gates adds that you get twice the taste when sourcing fresh ones. ‘There are a lot of field crickets in the UK in the summer. Arm yourself with a torch and Tupperware box and you’ll get lucky at night. British crickets are pretty easy to catch.’ Besides, don’t pretend there isn’t something Bear Grylls cross Ray Mears about the thought of running around your garden snaring small beasties for your supper.
‘The little bit of formic acid inside raw ants gives them a great zesty, zingy, sour taste’
As for anyone worrying about the humane aspects of killing insects, Gates argues that ‘sophisticated’ killing methods will only cause the insect more problems. ‘Instead, throw them in boiling water if you don’t want them raw. These things have very high surface area to body ratio so they die a lot quicker than a lobster or crab would. It’s pretty much instantaneous.’
Colombian Six-Legged Marching Powder
Unwanted large house spider lurking on your curtains? ‘Boil it and then douse it with smoked paprika,’ suggests Gates. ‘It’s a wonderful bite and you get a smoky bacon flavour. In fact, most insects taste very nice in paprika. By far the best are fat bottomed ants from Colombia, which have a natural smoky bacon flavour. These are the caviar of the insect world. You’d have to order those online though.’
In fact, there aren’t many insects that you can’t eat. Gates lists three golden rules: one, do not consume hairy caterpillars; two, ensure that the legs are taken off grasshoppers before consuming (the small rows of upturned grips could stick in the throat); and three, anyone with seafood allergies should not risk eating bugs at all. Beyond that, most things in the garden are fair game (avoid anything stinging or poisonous for obvious reasons).
For easy snackage, go for raw ants. ‘That sourness, the little bit of formic acid inside them’, Gates reveals, ‘they’re great with anything. Chuck them into cold water for a few minutes, fish them out, shake off and sprinkle over a chilli and herb salad. They’ve got a lovely zesty, zingy, taste. Go great with a beer. And if you’re so inclined, fresh locusts taste incredible due to their intense beefy flavour.’
Single Malt And Larva
When pressed on his favourite dish, Gates doesn’t skip a beat: ‘Woodlice salad. Closely related to shrimps, these make an amazing prawn cocktail. They’ve got that crab-like sweetness and big depth of taste, and lots of umami from it. Keep them in a box with leaves overnight to rid them of unwanted fluids, chuck them into boiling water and they cook very quickly – I wouldn’t go any more than two minutes at the very most – drain them, mix them in with some sauce, some crispy lettuce. Strictly speaking it’s not an insect, but woodlice are what first got me hooked on entomophagy.’
Should you want some more sizzle with your slither, Gates recommends making a nice earthworm stir-fry. ‘Again, you need to purge the earthworms a little, keeping them in a clean box of leaves for a day or day and a half. Then stir-fry them, chuck them in with some salad. Perfect when paired with a neat whisky.’
They Said It’ll Never Fly
Appetite still intact? Good, because those with an even bolder palate are in for more treats, starting with Kunga Cake, a Ugandan dish that – well, we’ll let Gates explain: ‘This summer there is going to be an explosion of midges – mostly in Scotland – and it’s ideal for Kunga Cake. Get a frying pan, wet it with some oil, wave it around in a cloud of midges so they all stick to it. Scrape them all together into a patty, like a burger and cook them.’ Sweet revenge!
Oh, and while you’re stocking up the fly patties, keep an eye out for cockchafer beetles too: ‘Cockchafer soup was once a steadfast traditional dish in France until midway through the last century. It’s a delicacy, all right. Dust them off and fry them until they’re nice and golden. Insects have a very high protein content, giving you the Maillard effect - that browning reaction when you sear a steak or burger. Then make a big meat stock, add them in, throw in some double cream for a nice creaminess, and that’s it. Cockchafers are like croutons, so throw a few on top for extra crunch.’
If it’s blending you want, Gates recommends try mealworm bolognese, probably nothing like your mama used to make but definitely good for you: ‘It gives you the protein hit and beefiness, all tempered by the tomato and herbs. Insects also have a large amino acid profile. Just remember to blend it properly. You don’t want to get legs in your teeth.’
WHAT NEXT? Oddly peckish but don’t have the temperament of Wile E. Coyote for hunting your prey? Gates has the answer: ‘If you do buy insects in, they’ll likely be freeze-dried, resulting in a slightly musty flavour. To counter this, use a beef stock to rehydrate the insects. Works especially well for crickets.’