How to Eat Fried Worms

Posted on March 8, 2012

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Insect merchant in Cambodia .

Insect Merchant in Cambodia, Image via Wikipedia

Could you eat bugs? Could you swallow the creepy crawly things that sneak out of the grass into your home only to be met with a can of Raid? It may be time to get used to the idea of ingesting the contents of your ant farm. Eating insects has both health and environmental benefits and may not be as unusual as you think.

Throughout history, humans have feasted on a long menu of bugs, from early cavemen to ancient Greeks to current populations in Asia, Latin America and Africa. For hunter-gatherers who only occasionally came across large game, insects were the ultimate source of protein. As a National Geographic  article explains, ancient Romans ate beetle larvae that had been raised on flour and wine; is feeding wine to tomorrow’s dinner not the true meaning of extravagance? Greeks knew the exact right time to eat cicada eggs and John the Baptist ate locusts with honey in the desert. As recently as the 1940’s “french fried ants” were sold in Chicago. Today, many cultures still find insects to be a delicacy: curried dragonflies in Indonesia, stir-fried larvae in Japan, and grubs, cicadas, ants and grasshoppers sold in open-air markets across the globe.

So when and why did Americans and Europeans stop eating bugs? According to National Geographic, it was when we became farmers. Once we had grain and cattle to feed us, insects switched from sustenance to pestilence. But the truth is, bugs may be a better source of protein than their farm animal replacements. Bugs have three times as much protein as beef and are a better source of omega-3 fatty acids than even grass-fed beef. And unlike industrial beef, they don’t arrive on your plate only after having been pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. Plus, they’re less taxing on the environment to raise: 100lbs of feed produces 10lbs of beef or 45lbs of cricket. Also, you can eat 75% of a locust, but only 20% of a cow, and whereas a cow mostly stands and farts, bugs buzz around cleaning and pollinating and generally taking up much less space. [On a cynical note, can you imagine a future where insects are farmed by Cargill and fattened on corn and soy until they’re worse for you than industrial beef? Let’s ignore that idea for now.] To be fair, mosquitoes and other bugs can spread disease, but do you remember swine flu? According to an awesome TED Talk (embedded below) by Marcel Dicke, while humans are biologically close enough to pigs to receive porcine heart valve transplants, insects are so much farther removed from us that it is very unlikely we would share viruses.

So now you’re on board in theory, but when you imagine sitting down to a plate full of six-legged arthropods, you can’t imagine actually putting one in your mouth. Unfortunately, insects don’t McDonald’s multi-billion dollar advertising budget, but some very enterprising grad students in London have been creating prototypes for insect meals and packaging that could entice the general, only-somewhat-adventurous population. Ento takes away much of the ‘ick’ factor by grinding up the bugs, mixing them with some tasty seasonings and storing them neatly in pretty packaging so that, if uninformed, you might enjoy the taste and not wonder what you’re eating. The name ‘Ento’ presumably comes from the word entomophagy, which is the practice of eating bugs. Take a look at their line of products here. The presentation is beautiful, but can we trust the taste buds of a population raised on Marmite? (Just kidding – sort of.)

If you need a little more encouragement to get excited about eating bugs, check out minute 14 of the below TED Talk video where a Dutch pastry chef whips up beautiful chocolate confections garnished with insects. If even that doesn’t do it for you, you can always console yourself with the fact that you already eat bugs – about 500g per year. The FDA allows 100g of peanut butter to contain up to 30 insect “fragments”, and chocolate can have up to 60 insect fragments. With that, I’ll leave the decision to eat bugs up to you. Just don’t watch this clip before you do.

Watch the whole TED Talk by Marcel Dicke here:

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