Edible Insects Creeping And Crawling Into The Mainstream

While consumers in many countries have enjoyed cooked and raw insects for generations, the whole concept of eating bugs is a queasy one for Westerners.
March 12, 2016

While consumers in many countries have enjoyed cooked and raw insects for generations, the whole concept of eating bugs is a queasy one for Westerners. 

However, it looks as though this might change in the future, as according to a study by the Forestry Department, a branch of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), insects are a viable source of protein, are environmentally friendly and might even help fight obesity. And they certainly aren’t liable to become extinct anytime soon.

Celebrity chefs like Kylie Kwong and Matt Stone have been pushing the trend and restaurants have been experimenting with insects, but how can such dishes be made attractive to all consumers? Skye Blackburn, the founder of the Edible Bug Shop, recently spoke to Hospitality magazine about what started as a hobby but became a thriving business.

“We’ve been breeding them for about seven years now, but over the last two or three years, in particular, we have seen a big expansion in the edible insect area”, she stated.

Blackburn described how different insects and varying types of insect have different flavours: “Ants have a chemical in them called formic acid which is what they use to communicate with each other, so different species of ants taste a little bit different because their acid is slightly different. It also depends how you use them to what kind of flavours you get. With the crickets, they have a real mild nutty flavour kind of like an almond, but if you’re looking at a mealworm they have a nutty flavour as well, but it’s kind of like a stronger nut - kind of like a walnut”, she said.

How Sweet It Is

Hoping to prove that insects can be used in sweet dishes as well as savoury offerings, and as part of this year’s Sydney Good Food month, Blackburn approached Anna Polyviou, pastry chef at Sydney’s Shangri-La, with the task of creating insect-based desserts. And Polyviou met the challenge, later stating,

“Skye gave me four different things to play with, and myself and my team tasted all of them, but the ants were the insects we liked the most… I removed the poppy seeds from my orange flourless cake and used ants instead. I was just really playing around with them and I thought that the ants tasted a bit like lemon, so I thought okay, I’m going to put them with my orange and poppy seed cake and it really worked.”

René Redzepi from Denmark’s Noma also responded to Blackburn’s mission, and she enthused, “René is a big advocate of edible insects, and I speak to him about new products that we’ve got coming up and he gives me a lot of ideas. He was happy to give us the recipe to the beef tartare dish that he serves in his restaurant. [Noma] forage their ants as there is woodland located near them, and they have different ants at different times of the year, so some of them taste like mulberries, [and] some of them have a woody flavour.”

Noting that insects can be used in recipes in whole, crushed and other forms (“It’s just the same as any other ingredient”), Blackburn finally discussed the key issue with eating insects for most of us: a psychological aversion. According to her, “We try to serve the edible insects in a way that’s familiar to people. Obviously, the insects are an unfamiliar ingredient, so it makes it a little bit easier for people to try and get their head around it if it’s presented in a way that’s familiar to them… Once people try insects, they’ll often order them again because that psychological barrier has essentially been overcome.”

And do you feel creeped and/or crawled out yet?