Are insects the future of haute cuisine? And how soon might we be spreading ant paste-spiked mayonnaise on our turkey sandwiches, or scarfing happy hour locusts? (Maybe sooner than you think: If you attend a Mariners game in Seattle, you can already buy cups of toasted grasshoppers to distract you from more than 15 years of playoff-less baseball.) David MacNeal's Bugged: The Insects Who Rule the World and the People Obsessed with Them explores the world of entomophagy, imagining a time where we will be "requesting more flies in the soup."
Dubious? I'm not sure the following essay will convince you, but let's give him a shot.
Insects’ Culinary Future
By David MacNeal
We disguise what we eat. That tuna on rye once had a gaping mouth and eyes. That bacon once had a smiling, Babe-like punim. And cow is better perceived as being pushed through a factory where cartoonish, In-N-Out cheeseburgers merrily roll off a production line… mmm, meaty. In the rising Western trend of eating insects, aka entomophagy, we see the same.
Across North America and Europe, entomologists and insect obsessives alike are raising protein-rich crickets and mealworms for human consumption. This is all in an effort to get the West to accept an ingredient four-fifths of the world already ingests: bugs. Insects are nutritious, environmentally friendly foods. Brooklyn-based Exo produces protein bars from cricket flour, as does Avail in Los Angeles. Chirps, a delicious variety of tortilla chips I clandestinely served my friends (as detailed in Bugged), recently won funding on ABC’s Shark Tank. These companies and their ilk are spearheading a movement that will impact our eating greatly.
The trend is already spawning two schools of thought in the culinary world: Do we hide or admire the insect?
An insect smorgasbord from Kometosakasu in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that includes silkworms, bamboo caterpillars, locusts, diving beetles, scarabs and pineapple-topped scorpion
For some, a sushi crab roll is much easier to swallow than a king crab with black beady eyes gazing at you. Either way, crab imbues a socially accepted yumminess (for lack of better word). However, insects and their ick factor, face a long, uphill battle. That’s a shame. Given a chance, insects represent an underutilized ingredient chefs should be exploiting. By winning over the majority of eaters with crafty dishes that showcase, not hide, insects, entomophagy in the West can progress from a trend to a movement to a staple.
Bugs pack a unique punch not found in other ingredients argues famous bug chef/author David George Gordon. For his Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, Gordon tested the ingredient’s potential through trial and error. The results proved worthy of the annual Explorers Club dinner in New York in 2015.
Ritzy restaurants are catching on. Denmark’s Michelin-starred Noma experiments with a variety of insects. Pujol, in Mexico City, features a dish with chicatana ant paste added to mayonnaise. According to the Chef’s Table episode that featured the dish, what makes it really special is the fact that winged chicatana ants are harvestable only five days a year. Chef Alex Atala relies on leaf cutter ants for a lemongrass zest that resonates in his desert—full exoskeleton intact. In a back alley restaurant in Tokyo I ate a bowl of soy-glazed locusts. Their secret? The locusts feed on rice leaves, giving them a bright, refreshing flavor with an inherent crunch. I scarfed down the entire bowl like a maniac.
Processed entomological treats and health-infused protein bars are the first step in opening our eyes, aiding the movement. Cricket flour, among other bugs, can get us there. But, like sushi, the finer cuisines will entrench insects into the culinary world. It will attract curious people, and sell out special entomophagy events, like my experience last January at Denver’s Linger restaurant. Gordon came in person and served dishes that everyone giddily consumed, from waxworm quesadillas to ant and forelle pear salad.
So it’s not a stretch to picture people, within our lifetime, sliding into a diner booth, and requesting more flies in the soup. Meanwhile, while in Seattle later this month for my book tour, I fully intend to buy a bowl of toasted grasshoppers during a Mariners game.