World Edible Insect Day
World Edible Insect Day is here – but why should we care?
When the much-loved NOMA decided to ‘pop up’ in Sydney, food innovation was expected and Rene Redzepi and his team did not disappoint. The NOMA team scoured the Australian flora and fauna for unique scents and flavours to infuse into their Australian menu. One (of many) stand out dishes was a dessert simply titled ‘Mango and Green Ants’. This caused the most attention since it used an insect that many of us have cursed at some time in the heat of an Australian summer when a green ant bite has left a lingering aching sting.
Redzepi’s warm embrace of Australian insects was not an innovation by any means; it was simply the world’s top chef bringing attention to the incredible unlocked edible bugs of Australia and putting them squarely on the global dining table.
October 23 is ‘World Edible Insect Day’ but is a sign of the changing palettes in the western world? To be fair, other countries and cultures are way ahead in using the unique flavours of bugs in daily cuisine. To gain insight into this edible bug movement, I sought out Davy Blouzard from Siem Reap’s BUG’S CAFÉ, a café/restaurant dedicated to making bug cuisine delicious in a country where bug consumption is status quo.
Blouzard hails from France and has dedicated the café to making bugs taste great – “I talk to people as they walk by to help remove the fear of eating edible bugs. Our chef takes great care in making the bugs taste delicious.” This chef is Khmer Head Chef Seiha Soeun who runs the tiny kitchen. “Each insect has a particular scent, texture and flavour. We work hard to combine with fragrant and delicious ingredients like honey, lemongrass, kaffir lime, garlic and ginger so it complements the bug.” says Blouzard. “Once diners realise the flavour will be nice, they take a chance to try something new.” He adds.
This “new” cuisine includes crickets, mealworm, tarantula, scorpion, waterbugs, grasshoppers, local ants, silkworm, and bees eggs combined with French, Italian, Asian and even Mediterranean flavours. Whilst not unusual in Cambodian cooking, it is unusual for it to be desired by tourists. Many seek out Bugs Café now in an attempt to either overcome the fear or to tick off an item on a foodie bucket list. “Eating bugs is good for the planet, they are good for your health too.” Blouzard insists.
Whilst a lot more adventurous than NOMA’s Mango and Green Ants (and significantly less expensive), the bugs on the popular ‘Discovery Platter’ are designed to be the most palatable. Disguised inside familiar treatments, the ants arrive in a spring roll and a tarantula is inside a sweet donut batter. The insect skewer is about as literal as you will find, with a scorpion, tarantula and small crickets impaled together in a somewhat macabre sacrifice.The flavours are delicious, rich and familiar, the texture is similar to soft shell crab and school of prawns. It is all so familiar and yet it is not.
Should this sort of food be feared when carved up cow cheek or lamb’s buttocks is considered haute cuisine? Probably not, but perhaps that is the main hurdle – the prejudice against insects.
People do not fear a pig hiding in their shoe ready to bite you with its poisonous venom. You do not swat away a cute little lamb as it frolics in the meadow, but you will suddenly become a ninja contortionist at the hint of a spider’s web on your face. Western society spends billions of dollars on poisons to kill on sight and in anticipation of these pesky bugs crawling within a 1 millimetre radius. So why would you want them in your mouth?
Perhaps the answer is not in seeing them as creepy crawlies but for what they really are – protein. In some cultures, they are a source of food that is freely available and in the instance of Cambodia and Africa, a life-sustaining meal during times of great famine and war. Could consuming insects be the answer to the world food crisis where consumption of protein is at an all-time high and mass food production is increasingly helped along by chemicals and additives to maintain demand levels? When compared side by side, beef for example requires at least 3-4 times more feed to grow the same amount of biomass and 100 times more water.
A company in the UK has launched what they hope is a food revolution in the Western world with a niche product – Zoic Bars. Targeting the protein-hungry, clean eating health conscious, these bars are ‘all natural insect protein bar’ that is also gluten free, dairy free, soy free and even suited to the paleo diet. This launch of course saw several more insect-friendly products pop up including Bodhi Bar and the crowd funded Jungle Bar that use insect flour (cricket and mealworm flour) and combine with seeds, fruits, cacao and nuts.
Whether it is on a $500 per person menu, inside a $1 spring roll or $10 protein bar, bugs still get a bad rap. It’s all a matter of perception and until that changes, it doesn’t matter that it’s World Edible Bug Day, it will not change the fact that people cannot handle the thought of putting a bug deliberately inside their mouth – not yet any way. Only time will tell if we will embrace insects as much as the top chef’s in the world do.
In my opinion, insects are delicious.