Science news is ‘abuzz’ this month following a study published in a recent issue of PlosONe, which found that edible insects contribute far less greenhouse gases per kilogram of meat than cattle and pigs. According to the study, since insects produce more usable protein faster and with fewer emissions , they could be an ecological alternative to other forms of livestock. Basically, as science poet Elissa Malcohn puts it, “we get more bang for the bug.”
But how can the average American take advantage of this information, and begin to incorporate these “Priuses of protein” into their own diet?
In light of the fact that trying new things can be intimidating (especially if that ‘new thing’ is eating insects!), I’ve put together this handy, simple guide to bug-eating for beginners.
Step 1: Order bugs online.
The easiest (and tastiest) way to start eating insects is to order them live from an insect farm. The most readily available edible insects on the market are crickets, mealworms, and waxworms, which are raised in general for animal consumption. There are many farms across the US which have good practices and from which insects can be ordered online. FlukerFarms.com is a great source for tasty crickets; San Diego Waxworms (sdwaxworms.com) feeds their stock on bran and honey; and RainbowMealworms.net raises their larvae on cactus.
It is also possible to order pre-made, dried bug snacks, such as from Thaibugs.com and the Hotlix company. In fact, Hotlix is one of the only purveyors of ‘food-grade’ edible insects in the US, and will sell you excellent-quality, ready-to-use dried crickets and scorpions (what makes them ‘food-grade’ is the fact that they are, er, dead before shipping). However, keep in mind that eating dried, prepared bugs is akin to eating beef jerky — there’s no real comparison to filet mignon.
Step 2: Freeze bugs.
Once your live bugs have arrived, the first thing to do is to toss them in the freezer. Depending on the bug, they will need 2 -10 hours in there before they are ready to use — you don’t want them jumping all over the place while you’re trying to cook them! Next, take them out of the freezer and rinse them; ideally, using a mesh net strainer, because some of those suckers are small. This will remove any dirt or substrate (the stuff they live on, like wood shavings), etc.
Step 3: Cook bugs like you would any other kind of meat.
There are many great recipes out there for preparing these insects, most of which include the exact same things you’d do with other types of meat (or nuts, or mushrooms): sauteeing, baking, breading and frying, and so on. I personally love the taste of crickets sauteed with garlic, which is sort of like nutty shrimp and goes with most things, and waxworms sauteed with onions could easily take the place of mushrooms, since they taste a lot like nutty chanterelles to me. You will hear this term, ‘nutty,’ used a lot in reference to bug flavors; it may be because of their diets.
Seriously, just treat them as you would any other form of meat, nuts, and so on. Sautee them with vegetables and serve them over rice. Douse them in egg, toss them in flour, and fry them briefly in oil. Layer them in lasagna; stir them into risotto, blend them into pesto. Roll them in sushi; fold them in omelets; mix them into muffins. Speaking of muffins:
Squeamish about tiny legs getting stuck in your teeth? No problem. Make Bug Flour.
If you are feeling a bit squeamish about putting bug bodies in your mouth, there is a great alternative. You can dry-roast most insects in your oven simply by spreading them out on a baking sheet and baking them at about 250 degrees for 5-15 minutes. Once they are crispy and golden, you can pop them in the blender and grind them into a highly-nutritious, nutty-tasting ‘bug flour.’ This flour can be added to baked goods, sprinkled on salads and soups, or put into smoothies. If you are using crickets, this will add a great deal of protein, calcium and iron (more than a comparable amount of beef).
Step 4: Raise bugs at home. It’s easy!
Once you’ve tried ordering edible insects and realized, as I did, that they really are as good as a lot of other food, you’re ready for step two: raising insects at home. This is truly the most environmentally- and economically-sustainable way to incorporate insects into your diet, and it’s easier than having a vegetable garden.
In fact, to feed two people one or two bug meals a week, all you’ll need is a space less than 2 feet square, the size of a medium plastic bin or terrarium. Crickets, mealworms, and waxworms breed like crazy, have short maturing times, and require very little in terms of food and water. This is factored in to their increased protein productivity over their mammal cohorts — basically, because of their biology, they have way more babies and grow much faster on far less food and water. Crickets can easily be fed things that would otherwise end up in your compost, such as potato skins, vegetable cuttings, etc., and the addition of one moistened paper towel per week should yield you quite a harvest: many hundred head of cricket, if you will.
There are many reasons to eat insects: they are tasty, nutritious, abundant, and the most environmentally sustainable source of animal protein on the planet. It’s possible that if there were a market for the edible insects that feed on crops, less insecticides could be used. Edible insects are being considered by the FAO as a possible solution to world hunger, and are eaten by 80% of the world’s cultures. Also, let’s not forget that the FAA already allows high levels of insect parts in all forms of processed food. Peanut-beetle, anyone?
Americans have already been found to consume more than our fair share of global resources, much like the livestock on which we’ve based our diets. Let’s get the bugs out of our food system — by eating them!