TV series such as Survivors have highlighted the fact that many insects are not only edible, but are tasty as well. In fact, there are 1,462 recorded species of edible insects - and probably many more that haven't been sampled yet. Insects are on a par with shellfish in providing high-quality protein and are a good source of other nutrients such as iron, calcium and B vitamins. There's a much higher chance of catching a disease from a mammal than an insect. Nobody is ever likely to suffer from 'mad grasshopper disease'. When you consider how livestock such as chickens and pigs are treated with antibiotics and sometimes raised in less than ideal conditions, insect meals become quite appealing.
There's certainly nothing novel or bizarre about eating insects. It's a custom widely practised around the world. Locusts are a common human food source in Algeria. In Australia, Aborigines still feast on Bogong moths, witchetty grubs and the 'honeybag' bee. Japanese restaurants serve boiled wasp larvae, fried cicadas, fried ricefield grasshoppers and fried silk moth pupae. In Nigeria, roast termites and crickets go down a treat and, in Bali, they like to throw another dragonfly on the barbie - when they manage to catch it. The Thais are big bug eaters. In New Zealand, the huhu bug has graced many a Maori table. In the US, restaurants are putting insect dishes such as stir-fried mealworms and caterpillar crunch on their menus. Insects have the advantage of being cheap and easy to raise. Those diners in the know suggest starting off with mealworms and working your way up to crickets, which apparently are very difficult to muster if they escape. When the time comes it will probably be much easier to slaughter your crickets than it would be if you had to do in, say, pet lambs.
Plenty of Variety
If you're willing to put your prejudices aside, there can be plenty of variety in insect-eating. Earthworms are 70% protein and soaking them in water overnight will purge them of soil. Ants have a vinegary taste; in countries such as Thailand ant juice is sometimes substituted for recipes that call for lemon. Honey bees, a worldwide favourite, are edible at all stages of growth, larval, pupal and adult. Boiling breaks down the poison in their stingers. Moths are said to taste like almonds and have the advantage of being easy to catch with a bright light. Termites are second only to grasshoppers as the most commonly eaten insect and in Nigeria you can buy termite stock cubes. Fly larvae - or maggots - are rich in calories and protein. Scoop them off decomposed meat, wash in cold water, boil and they're ready to eat. 'In the natural, they are easy to capture and often found in clusters in such places as road kill,' advises one source. Crickets can be an excellent and healthy alternative to meat. 100g of crickets contains 12g of protein and only 5.5g of fat. 100g of beef has more protein - 18 percent - but also has 18 percent fat.
Best Cooked Alive
Insects taste best if cooked or frozen when alive. Freezing has the advantage of slowing down the more lively ones. Insects with a hard outer shell have parasites and need to be boiled before eating. Larvae are easier to eat than adult insects: particularly as not everyone is happy to remove an exoskeleton from between their teeth. Insects such as crickets concentrate toxins in their bodies, so should not be picked where pesticides have been used. Pet shops are a good source of insect supply and it doesn't require much space to raise your own micro-livestock.
Good for Your Health
Realistically, few of us will ever be willing to sit down to a meal of sautéed caterpillars or tuck into a bowl of chocolate covered ants for dessert. A greater tolerance towards insects, however, would be good for our health. If we didn't mind the odd worm in an apple - what a bonus! - or object to greens obviously munched by insects, the farmer could reduce the levels of pesticides, substances that are potentially of much greater threat to our health. Those who practise entomophagy (insect-eating) like to point out that 80% of the world's people eat insects intentionally and 100% eat them unintentionally.
Virtually everything we eat has bugs (entire or parts) within; indeed there are government standards as to the maximum number of bug parts per unit for each type of food.
- Harvard medical entomologist Rick Pollack
US regulations allow for 75 insect fragments per 50g of wheat flour, two maggots per 100g of tomato sauce or pizza, 20 maggots for canned mushrooms, 60 fragments per 100g of peanut butter and so on). It's estimated that the average person consumes about a kilo of insects a year. And is all the healthier for it.
If you still think you couldn't face a meal containing insects check out the ingredients that go into your morning tub of yoghurt. It is seething with living organisms
You Must Let Me Have the Recipe
Chocolate chippie chip cookies (with dry-roasted crickets), banana worm bread, savoury patties (with meal worm), bug blox - there are many creative ways to take insect protein. For the squeamish the answer is to crush or use a blender on your insects and cook in a stew to disguise their appearance. The bible for bug eaters is The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, also author of The Complete Cockroach.