On The Front Burner: Bugs For Dinner

Usually, when you find bugs on your dinner plate, you send your food back to the kitchen.

Dave Gracer, the founder of Small Stock Foods and an avid entomophagist, has a different opinion on bug consumption. He came to NYU’s Green House to change our perceptions about creepy crawlers.

Gracer believes bugs are the food of the future in a world of dwindling water supplies and food sources. Only needing a minute fraction of the space, water, food, and energy that traditional domestic animals require, bugs are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of protein. Nutritionally, bugs are a great option because they have a higher percentage of protein (per body, per pound) than conventional meats and most vegetables.

After listening to Gracer’s environmental and nutritional pro-entomophagy arguments, I was theoretically on board with eating bugs. The question was: were my taste buds?

After the discussion, Gracer nonchalantly sautéed some crickets and brown rice over a hot plate, for the first bug tasting of the evening. I tried to keep an open mind, but with my plate in hand, all I could do was squeamishly examine the tiny animals, probing them with my fork, imagining their brains squishing in my mouth and their antennae getting stuck between my teeth (graphic enough for you?). Finally I stopped thinking, closed my eyes, and opened wide.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, swallow. Remarkably, I didn’t die, as I was expecting. Besides the occasional antenna caught in the back of my throat, the crickets were actually…quite good. Crunchy with a mild umami flavor, the bugs tasted most like the canola oil they were cooked in. Crickets, according to Gracer, have a very mild taste akin to sunflower seeds, and take on the flavor of whatever you add to them.

Next up were the cicadas harvested by Gracer himself at a New England college campus. The black, wrinkly cicadas, about the size of my thumb, were a bit more daunting visually than the crickets due to their size and ugliness. But, I reminded myself, with a belly full of crickets, that I had nothing to fear. To my surprise, the cicadas were light, delicate, and even crunchier than the crickets, with a faint smoky taste. They were actually delicious, evoking the taste of roasted asparagus.

Photo by Emma Hazen

The last insects I tried were queen ants harvested in Texas by another bug enthusiast who shipped them to Gracer. After the unattractive cicadas, the ants were surprisingly approachable. In Colombia, these queen ants, called Hormigas Culonas, or big-assed ants, are a delicacy–and a traditional wedding gift. The queen ants were also light and crunchy with a mildly sweet, cheesy flavor, reminiscent of brie.

As of now, insects will probably not become a large part of my diet, but the experience of eating bugs and learning about entomophagy was interesting, unusual, and surprisingly tasty. If bugs are really the protein of the future, our taste buds surely will be satisfied, even with the occasional antenna in our teeth.

 

Originally posted on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

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