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?


* You can read it for yourself here.

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