I was reading an article the other day about this year’s food trends. The article talked about the usual ‘ethnic’ foods like kimchi and coconut water. Then came the stomach churning delicacies like anchovy ice cream but what really caught my eye was how edible insects were making waves in upscale restaurants across Europe.
Touted as the new ‘superfood’ due to their high protein content and sustainability, bugs are hardly new to the food and travel scene. In fact, insects have long been a part of the traditional diet in places like Asia, Latin America, Africa and Oceania.
I’m not gonna lie, the idea of eating bugs grosses me out. There are only a few things that will make me eat insects: 1) accidentally trapping midges and mozzies with my mouth while riding on the back of a motorcycle, 2) the need to be polite in foreign countries, or 3) a double dare!
My first bug eating experience was in South Korea. It was 1999 and I was living in a rural village called Naju while setting up an English-language program for LG Chemical. ‘Beondegi’ – or boiled silkworm pupae – was super popular with kids and adults alike. A common street food, you could usually find an ajuma selling beondegi at the markets, festivals or stumbling home from the bars in the city during the wee hours of the morning.
Although not my street-meat of choice, beondegi wasn’t half bad once you got used to the idea of eating caterpillar larvae. To give you an idea of what it tastes like, imagine something along the lines of puffed wheat with nutty overtones that crunch between your teeth followed by a grotesque squirt of caterpillar innards across your tongue. I managed to choke down a few but I gave the rest to my colleague’s young son who was more than happy to finish them off.
When I left Korea to travel around South East Asia in 2002, eating bugs was a right of passage among the backpacker set. The first stop in Bangkok usually began with a trip to Khao San Road where you could get your fill of entomophagic delicacies stewing in crust-lined vats of sizzling hot oil. Not much had changed on my last trip to Thailand where we came across dozens of street vendors selling silk worms, grasshoppers, water beetles, crickets or the grand daddy of them all… scorpions! Although technically an animal, I’ll go ahead and lump scorpions and other arachnids in with the creepy crawly bug world. The crunch of deep fried scorpion exoskeleton between my teeth still makes my stomach churl but, I guess, if I had to do it again I probably would.
These days, you don’t need to travel far and wide to find insects on the menu. In fact, insects have been creeping into the menus of high-profile restaurants in the United States, England and Europe for years now. Insects are also hitting the shelves of local grocery stores in the form of protein-packed power bars, like Chapul and Exo. In Canada, Next Millennium Farms is leading the protein revolution with a wide selection of cricket flours, organic mealworm snacks and variety of roasted barbequed cricket flavours.
5 reasons to start eating insects:
- Eating insects adds healthy protein, unsaturated fat, B vitamins and iron to meals, with very little carbohydrates.
- Eating more insects could help fight world hunger, says UN Report.
- Insects consume few resources and mature much more quickly than other sources of protein. For example, raising insects for protein consumption is 20 times more efficient than raising beef.
- It takes up to 1000 times less water to raise insects than traditional meat sources.
- You’ve probably already been eating them! Anytime you see an ingredients list that includes carmine, cochineal extract or natural red 4, there’s sure to be little powdered cochineal bugs inside.
Want to learn more?
Check out this great BBC documentary Can Eating Insects Save the World?