Taste test: Insects increasingly crawling onto Western plates
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"Insects are good for you!" the wide-eyed, intrepid-looking chef said, speaking about the food at his restaurant.
Whether Daniel Creedon's words are of wisdom or folly, insects are creeping onto plates in the Western world. No longer just the preserve of reality shows like Fear Factor, bugs are not only an object of culinary curiosity, like at Creedon's Archipelago Restaurant in London, but could also be a key, eco-friendly source of nutrition.
Last month, the European Union launched a US$4.05-million project to research the benefits of 'entomophagy' – insect-eating. This follows on from a UN food and agriculture report from last year, stating that insects can "help to supply the growing demand for protein for both humans and livestock."
What's so great about creepy crawlies? Experts say they're a low-fat, high-protein food compared to ground beef, they're packed with nutrients (caterpillars are full of iron) and their 'foodprint' on the environment is smaller than other edible creatures.
"Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases than cattle," Arnold van Huis, a Dutch scientist promoting bugs as an alternative superfood, told Metro. "Plus, they are more cost-effective than producing meat. For example, crickets convert 1.5 kilograms of feed into one kilogram of protein, while with beef, you need 13 kilograms of feed just to get the same amount.
"In the future, we'll need another Earth to sustain our livestock demands, so we need other protein sources," he added.
How bad could they be? After all, some 2.5 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America eat insects as part of their balanced diet.
Yet some feel our palates will need more persuading if they're to stomach a whole beetle.
"If you told your neighbours you ate woodlice this weekend, they would think that you're mad," Stuart Hine, chief insect expert at London's Natural History Museum, told Metro. "For now, eating bugs will be a novelty in the same way as eating shellfish and molluscs is.
"There's nothing wrong eating bugs. Why do we find locusts abhorrent
while we can eat prawns? Both of these creatures are invertebrates."
But even the cook frying up locusts knows the limits.
"I don't want to go over the top as I'm catering for Western tastes," Creedon said. "It wouldn't be pleasant to serve a massive insect that would burst open in your mouth like a grape. We're not here to shock."
But how does it taste?
Here comes our first treat at Archipelago – the affectionately named 'Love-bug salad': spinach and rocket leaves with some locusts and crickets, pan-fried in chili and garlic. The bugs seemed to glisten under the room's spotlight, the luminous yellow and green locusts came with wings, legs and eyes intact – the crickets, as black as soot.
'Crunch' – that was the distinct sound and feeling as my teeth got acquainted with the cooked locust. Bitter, a bit tangy, was the taste. The crickets were crunchier and spicier – maybe they're better at absorbing the sauce.
Then came the honey bee, which was a drone so it didn't paxk the sting. Glazed in honey, it tasted rather succulent and sweet. I didn't notice the contours of its abdomen as I swallowed.
Before I get the next dish, our waitress told us that in Africa, to prove that you're a real man, you have to swallow a live scorpion. Well, I was in luck since mine was dead and covered in chocolate. Caution: the venom has been removed but the stinger is still there. Initially, it was crunchy like the others, but it got chewier as I continued – a bit like nougat perhaps. Afterwards, I still find scorpion 'bits' lodged between my teeth. Toothpick, anyone?