After lab-grown burgers and plant-based sausage, what about a meat alternative made from insects? Insect farming is gaining traction, all the way to DIY home kits.
A few years ago, Ikea’s experimental laboratory Space10 presented its vision of the future in eight meatballs, each one composed of different ingredients: lab-grown meat, food waste, urban farming produce, powdered nutrients, algae, 3D-printed, nuts…and insects. These days, the lab’s resident chef is crafting a burger made of beets, parsnips and mealworms.
Meet The Bug Burger—a spin of the traditional burger recipe that creates a synergy between new ingredients and old classics. What might look like a standard burger patty is actually a combination of beets, parsnips and mealworms created by our Chef-in-Residence @simonperezfood 📸: @k_kristoffersen #SPACE10 #🍔 #🐛 #whatscooking #INSIDESPACE10
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While these “bleeding” bug burgers aren’t yet on the menu at Ikea, certain restaurants and supermarkets in Europe are already serving and selling burgers made of soy protein and buffalo worms. After the success of lab-engineered meat in the United States (Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger…), early adopters can now stock up on Insect Burgers, produced by the Dutch start-up Bug Foundation and distributed in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
But why stop at worm burgers? More than 1,900 species of insects have been identified as edible, and some 2 billion people are already eating them, mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Insects can be eaten whole or powdered, grilled or fried, salty or sweet, in pasta or in pastries… Locusts are even kosher (Leviticus 11:22) and halal (Sunan ibn Majah, 4.3222).
Black ant quinoa salad:
Many people are still expressing our human entomophagous biological prehistory—whether by necessity, habit or hobby. In Thailand, the markets are full of crickets, silkworms and giant water bugs stir-fried with onions and spices. In China, scorpions are grilled and skewered as street food. In Cambodia, tarantulas are greedily hunted… and potentially endangered. In Mexico, tacos are filled with chapulines (fried grasshoppers) and escamoles (ant eggs). In Indonesia, dragonflies are boiled in coconut milk with a touch of ginger. In Australia, witchetty grubs are traditionally roasted by aborigines in the desert. In Papua New Guinea, weevils are barbecued on the grill. In Ghana, termites are harvested during the rainy season, then roasted, fried or turned into bread…
Traditional Japanese cuisine includes several insect dishes: inago (grasshoppers simmered in soy sauce and sugar), hachinoko (hebo wasp larvae served over rice), kaiko (silkworm pupae), zazamushi (stonefly and caddisfly larvae). Today, these delicacies are more regional curiosities, while hunting these insects is largely a hobby. In order to revive these gourmet traditions, entomophagist Shoichi Uchiyama created the Insect Cuisine Research Association, which organizes monthly bug-eating workshops, and since 2009, the annual Mushikui (insect-tasting) festival in Tokyo.
Vespula flaviceps on a bed of pears:
We can incorporate #edibleinsects into our food and hide it, and we can also show it in all its glory. We try to find a good balance of both, and in many cases, we add it on top of foods that we think it would compliment very well. Because it is so new, we like to present it in a manner which will highlight both the flavor and appearance of each ingredient. @dinnerecho prepared this dish with vespula flaviceps (from our sponsors @entomarket), with @thebetterfish sea bass crudo, Korean pear, and a yuzu-soy sauce. We’re very excited to share our food research and experience with you. Thank you for your continued support 😊😄
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In terms of nutrition, insects are exceptionally rich in protein, including all nine essential amino acids, as well as prebiotic fiber, Omega 3 and 6 and other micronutrients. Crickets contain 20 times more vitamin B12 and 5 times more magnesium than beef, more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. 1kg of termites contains more protein than 1kg of cow.
Of course, eating insects is not strictly vegetarian, and (arguably) even less vegan. But for flexivegetarians, insect protein supplement offers indisputable nutritional benefits. And if it’s the well-being of farm animals that raises concern, unlike the factory farming of cattle and poultry, insects are almost always reared in conditions that are optimized for their species and killed humanely (often by freeze-drying, and in the case of crickets, “euthanized” at the end of their natural life cycle of around six weeks).
From an ecological perspective, insect microfarming occupies relatively little space, and insects can serve as feed for livestock while being fed on food waste. For 1kg of feed, crickets provide 12 times more protein than cows, require 2,000 times less water and produce 100 times less greenhouse gases.
Silkworm pupae japchae:
Silkworm pupae are commonly eaten in Korea, eaten as street food, and even sold in cans. Some kids growing up didn’t know what they were eating and would sadly stop eating what they once thought was delicious—when they learned it was a bug. Why do people have such an aversion to eating insects? This first picture is of a silkworm pupae (provided by our sponsors at @entomarket) japchae – Korean cellophane noodles. Dish prepared by @dinnerecho and photo taken by our media correspondent @entomocentral. Second pic is at the @amnh hanging out with a silkworm larva as @sorkinlouis is raising some pupae for us to experiment cooking with fresh! Thanks Lou!!
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So, why not eat insects? This is the famous question posed by British entomologist Vincent Holt in 1885 in his eponymous manifesto after tasting bugs around the world. He also cites several examples of historical Western entomophagy, especially by the Greeks (chrysalids) and the Epicureans of Rome (cossus larvae). He deplores the almost hypocritical anti-insect prejudice of the rich, especially those who shamelessly eat raw oysters and scavenging lobsters. He celebrates the ambrosia of pupae nourished exclusively on the sweetest nectar. Unfortunately, it’s the disgust for all insects of the dominant classes that has prevailed.
More than a century later, the Dutch entomologist Marcel Dicke rekindled the entomophagy debate, augmented with an ecological perspective. He points out in passing that nowadays, we all eat a certain quantity of insect parts, whether we are aware of it or not: in all processed food (tomato soup, orange juice, cereal…), and even more surreptitiously in anything that contains the natural red food coloring cochineal, which is extracted from crushed scale insects…
“Why not eat insects?” by Marcel Dicke (2010):
But it was the publication in 2013 of a seminal report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, that Western media really started to take bug-eating seriously. And gradually, regulations are catching up, country by country.
In Europe and North America, start-ups, events, conferences, wholesalers, books, recipes, research groups and advocates for eating insects have swarmed. As crickets are widely considered to be the “gateway” insect, closely followed by mealworms, it’s not surprising that most companies have opted to transform them into more palatable products: protein powder, energy bars, tortilla chips, cookies, pasta, chocolate-covered sweets, etc. Even chefs are getting excited, from Bangkok and Siem Reap to London and New York.
“Bugs on the Menu”, documentary film trailer (2016):
In San Francisco, one of the pioneers of the movement is the Mexican artist Monica Martinez, who in 2010 founded Don Bugito, a “prehispanic snackeria” which seeks to reinvent precolombian cuisine by incorporating crickets and worms into sweet and salty snacks. Her commercial adventure began with an insect-taco stand at a local street fair, as her initial project referenced Aztec and Mayan culinary cultures. Now her products are sold in dozens of food stores across the U.S. In parallel, she designed Wurmhaus, a DIY insect microfarming kit to rear mealworms at home.
Inspired by the same idea of urban farming one’s own protein, Austrian designer Katharina Unger created The Hive to farm edible insects on a desktop. For those who prefer open source, Open Bug Farm is a collaborative project to experiment with the mealworm farm kit initiated by Silicon Valley entomocultural start-up Tiny Farms.
Tenebrio molitor risotto:
Ça vous tente un risotto aux Molitors ce midi ? Découvrez la recette sur notre page Facebook #recetteinsecte #eatinsects #risotto #molitor #insectes #insectescomestibles #jiminis #eatsmaller #foodporn #instapic #food #yummy #homemade #recette #versdefarine #instafood #entomophagie
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China’s insect macrofarming may offer a glimpse of what the entomophagy industry could become on a massive scale. In the Chinese provinces of Shandong, Sichuan and Yunnan, according to the South China Morning Post, hundreds of industrial farms are each rearing billions of cockroaches. They feed on food waste between narrow shelves where it is dark, hot and humid. One facility, which contains 6 billion cockroaches, is surrounded by a moat teeming with carp ready to devour any escapees. While these insects are cultivated primarily for their chemical essence, used in traditional Chinese medicine to cure ulcers and skin wounds, local cuisines are quickly catching up. One farmer in Sichuan says he sells 10kg of cockroaches each month to nearby restaurants…
Nightmare or delicacy? If you need to think about it, here’s our advice: start with the cricket flour.