Edible insects crawl onto menus

In Europe and the United States, a few ambitious chefs are determined to make eating bugs more palatable.

In places like Colombia, Korea, and the Philippines, eating insects as a snack or with a meal is no big deal, but in Europe and the United States, the idea of chomping down on a crunchy critter makes many people squeamish.

A few ambitious chefs are determined to change all that.

Toloache, a restaurant in New York City, serves up tacos de chapulines or grasshopper tacos, inspired by chef Julian Medina’s upbringing in Mexico City. “We would snack on dried grasshoppers, enjoying them as someone enjoys popcorn,” Medina said. “At first customers are sceptical of the taco, but when they try them, they are pleasantly surprised. Many come back to try them again.”

In the Netherlands, the restaurant Specktakel recently hosted a five-course bug buffet, which included samosas with a mash-up of bugs known as “insect crumble”, mealworms and duck, and chocolate fondant with worms. Though the buffet was a special occasion, the chefs promise to keep at least one insect dish on the menu at all times.

Those looking for a more subtle introduction to entomophagy (the scientific term for bug-eating) can visit the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the insecectarium serves up gourmet bug-eats every day at 10 am.  From chocolate “chirp” cookies (baked with crickets as well as the usual chocolate chips) to cucumber sandwiches topped with queen ants, the dishes are all aimed at making eating bugs more routine.

“We eat so many odd things, like eggs, organ meat and honey, which is bee barf when you think about it,” said Zach Lemann, visitor programs manager at the insectarium. “Why not eat bugs? Insects are healthful for people, but they also taste good. They are much more efficient at converting plant matter into edible tablefare than livestock, so there is an environmental benefit as well.”

Lemann recommends that the first-time bug eater try house crickets, as they have a good, nutty taste even when eaten roasted and plain. But when it comes to versatility, nothing beats the fried wax worm (a type of caterpillar), which can be used in salty, spicy, and sweet dishes. Whatever the six-legged snack on the menu, diners are always wished a hearty “bug appétit!”

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