We keep being told that in the future we’ll all be eating bugs. They’re high in protein, highly sustainable and represent a cheaper alternative to beef and other meat that will be vital as the global population grows.
They’re also eaten widely in many parts of the world, including much of Asia, so in theory there should be no reason why we westerners should have a problem with them.
But in reality, many of us are pretty funny about the idea, and without even trying them have declared that we will never eat bugs under any circumstances.
So I decided to try them out. Not as a gimmicky sugar-covered treat, but as part of a regular meal. This way I could really see if they could work as part of a standard western diet, and try and get a clearer picture of what needs to be done to make them appealing to Americans and Europeans.
Being based in the UK, I reached out to British bug retailers Grub, who very kindly sent over a pack of crickets and a pack of grasshoppers to try.
As with most countries, any livestock sold in the UK needs to be reared in a licensed environment, so Grub gets its insects from a special farm in the Netherlands. As a result, all the bugs appeared to be very clean and of good quality, appearing far more like food than the insects you find in your garden.
However, because they need to be reared in the Netherlands, packs of bugs are not cheap, with a 50g pack of crickets costing £10.99 ($18.70) and a 30-35 piece pack of grasshoppers costing £11.79 ($20.00).
Obviously this price will vary depending on your supplier and where you are in the world, but it does rather eliminate the cost benefit over regular meats. However as more insect farms open up, we can expect the prices to drop considerably.
First I tackled the crickets, which I was using to make cricket rice cakes from a recipe on Grub’s website. One of the earliest stages of the recipe required the crickets to be roughly chopped, which I achieved relatively successfully, despite accidentally catapulting a few cricket heads across the room.
Generally this was fine, although I found there is a highly unfamiliar (although more weird than unpleasant) smell that was released when cutting the crickets.
Other steps in the recipe proved simple enough to follow, although the primary problem quickly emerged when I tried to veer from the recipe to cover for missing ingredients: I had absolutely no frame of reference for cooking crickets, or any bugs for that matter.
How do you know when a cricket is cooked? Is it possible to over-cook crickets – probably, I guess – or leave them too raw?
Without knowing this, cooking with bugs is always going to be a mysterious process and will never become accepted, because there will be no knowledge of a ‘good’ tasting, well-cooked insect versus a horribly overdone mess.
The western world is going to need introducing to the nuances of cooking with bugs if there is any hope for us actually adopting them as food, probably by an array of celebrity chefs. Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver, I’m looking at you.
Once I had completed the recipe, it was time to join my long-suffering boyfriend Tom in eating the resulting fried rice cakes.
“It’s… ok,” said Tom, upon chewing a mouthful thoughtfully. “I wish there weren’t visible bit of bugs in here.”
The bits of bugs were a problem. While the flavour – a nutty, seafoody taste – was fine, even quite pleasant, the crunch of a bug’s head between my teeth was not. And finding cricket legs between your teeth when you are done eating is downright nasty.
However, if I had ground the bugs into flour before making the recipe, the story would have been quite different, and the cakes themselves would have made a great alternative to burger patties. They were also very filling, meaning they would be ideal for a healthy eating kick.
Unlike the crickets, the grasshoppers were to be cooked whole, but needed their legs and wings removing; a tedious process that I suspect will put many off. If this is the way grasshoppers should be prepared, they should probably be sold this way to start with.
However, the rest of the grasshopper process was pretty straight forward. I tossed them in soy sauce and roasted them in the oven, in a highly familiar process.
Unfortunately I did manage to slightly burn (read: carbonise) some of the grasshoppers, but enough uncharred samples were left for us to try.
These were far more successful, tasting quite nutty. They would work well as a snack, particularly as a higher protein, lower carb alternative to crisps, and while their resemblance was a little odd, their roasted texture was not unpleasant.
I tried bugs expecting to be amazed by how nice they were and how easy they would be to fit into a western diet. Sadly this was not the case.
Bugs do have potential, but knowing how they work as ingredients and providing bug-based flour and other non leggy insect samples will make a big difference as to how quickly they are embraced.
My conclusion? We probably will end up eating bugs, but only when a company finds a way to process and brand them to meet our tastes. Until then, I’ll be sticking with chicken.