Why not eat insects?

Does it appeal as an ingredient?

Do they appeal as an ingredient?

Yesterday’s post elicited a few comments here and on Facebook about the potential for people as well as chickens to consume mealworms. This reminded me of a little book I came across some time ago, entitled Why not eat insects?* Published in 1885 and written by one Vincent M. Holt, it raises an interesting question, which I can’t help feeling is answered by the ‘ick’ factor. I know perfectly well that many insects and other invertebrates are highly nutritious, easy to rear in a small space and do not have associated welfare issues in the same way that larger livestock do, but I’m still not rushing off for a mealworm stir-fry! If you consider the classification of animals, insects (i.e. the subphylum Insecta in the phylum Arthropoda) are not far removed from prawns (which are members of the subphylum Crustacea in the phylum Arthropoda). So why do we happily tuck into sweet and sour king prawns but not field crickets in garlic butter? Don’t tell me it’s because you don’t like garlic!

To be fair, lots of cultures do eat insects. If you read Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, you will find mention of Precious Ramotswe eating mopane worms, which are moth caterpillars. And locusts in honey are mentioned in the bible (although the reference is probably to locust beans) and Game of Thrones (yes I know it’s fictional)… there’s even a recipe inspired by the latter here. Interestingly, dried mealworms do smell quite appetising, but I still can’t quite bring myself to cook with them.

Mr Holt gives some suggested menus in his little book, demonstrating much creativity (New Carrots with Wireworm Sauce; Gooseberry Cream with Sawflies; Devilled Chafer Grubs) but relatively poor taxonomic skills (Fried soles, with Woodlouse Sauce; Slug Soup) and possibly a mis-spelling (Fricassee of Chicken with Chrysalids… too much John Wyndham I think). However, if we are thinking about the wider invertebrate offering, there are the ubiquitous slugs. Some time a go I wrote a post about eating slugs, and I quoted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describing his experiments with recipes including slugs; he said  “I can heartily recommend those dishes, with just one small adjustment – leave out the slugs”. Even a man who isn’t particularly squeamish about what he eats clearly isn’t keen – although at least he tried. Slugs are just shell-less snails – a delicacy in France – so why are we not just yumming them up?

I suppose here in the UK (I can’t speak for the rest of you) we have just been taught to find insects distasteful. If it is a purely cultural thing, perhaps we should learn to overcome it… after all there are clear benefits to sourcing our protein from such animals. Do you eat insects?

-oOo-

* You can read it for yourself here.

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28 Comments

  1. Because they look too much like prawns that I have become allergic to.

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  2. I find insects taste fishy and gritty. (I may have eaten a woodlouse or two as a young child. I grew out of the habit.) It’s the crunch that gets me. A bit like tucking into egg on toast and finding a bit of shell. *shudders* Not nice at all.

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  3. Couldn’t eat insects….ever, ever, ever!

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  4. I don’t want bits of shell with my stir fried grasshopper, but if someone did the job of deshelling, I’d certainly give them a go. Revenge would taste pretty sweet, I reckon, since they’ve done a fine job of decimating my garden this year. Slugs would probably be a bit too far, I think the slime would put most people off.

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  5. I think I’ve just become vegetarian.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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  6. Apparently a few insects are widely eaten in the Amazon, especially one type of caterpillar… I shall report back after my jungle travels!

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  7. Do I eat insects? No. It’ll never happen. I’d rather – well, it doesn’t matter what I’d rather do! I know someone who hasn’t touched rice since she was 5 because it looks like maggots (she’s 64 now), and my daughter tells me she ate the very chic mopane worm hors d’oeuvre at a trendy restaurant last week. But I find that hard to believe. This is a girl who has hysterics if there’s a moth in her room…..

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    • I’d be interested to know what mopane worms taste of… and how you serve them. Not sure, however, that I actually want to sample the things!

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      • I’ve just followed up on this. Apparently it was Africa Week recently on UCT campus, so there were lots of food stalls handing out food. Alex says she was offered a small container of mopane worms in some sort of sauce, and she picked one out with a toothpick. She says Half a one, actually; and it was crunchy and runny at the same time. Frankly, I wish I’d never asked.

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  8. I’d like to say I could take one for the team here and trade in my animal protein for some crunchy insects, but umm… not gonna happen. Because, yuck.

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  9. I had a barbecued ant “chip” once in elementary when we were at a bug museum! They sold bags of weird bugs as food in the giftshop. Not so sure I’d even try it now though! I don’t recall wanting to eat any more than the one that was offered to me even back then!

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  10. I was just reading about this very self-same thing this morning on one of the permie blogs that I follow. Here’s the linky if you are interested…

    http://milkwood.net/2014/06/12/farming-edible-insects-hello-zero-footprint-protein/

    People really don’t realise that “food” is quite hard to get if you don’t have an artificial food production system going on around you in order to support huge populations. Insects make a good alternative. So long as they tasted good I wouldn’t care that they were insects. It’s all about the taste with me. Yummy and insect = maybe. Yucky and insect = “No WAY jose!” easy peasy really 😉

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    • “They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you’ll have anarchy.” Arnold J. Rimmer in Red Dwarf
      Perhaps we’re also three meals away from eating insects.

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      • I am vegan but I would eat insects before I ate meat if the need arose. I am not averse to crunching a cricket or two…indeed I dare say I have scoffed a fair few wrigglies in my time on various green things that I probably didn’t wash as well as I could and I KNOW that I have inhaled my weights worth of white fly over the years 😉 At the end of the day it’s all protein, its just how you choose to eat said protein and what is in fashion. In China they don’t think twice before tucking into insects…

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  11. There was a programme on BBC4 last year called “Can Eating insects Save The World?”. I wrote a little about it here: http://moralfibres.co.uk/can-eating-insects-save-the-world/ It was fascinating watching if you can track it down. They basically said that there are so many insects in the world, and they reproduce so quickly that they’d make a brilliant sustainable food source (high protein!) if we could get over the ick factor of eating insects in the west!

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