This month, ICC’s California campus hosted Aly Moore, founder of Bugible—a blog about the world of edible insects—and EatBugsEvents.com, for an insightful presentation and tasting about how and why we eat bugs. Opening a dialogue about how what we eat impacts our bodies and our environment, we discussed how to overcome the stigma surrounding edible bugs and encouraged chefs of the next generation to have an open mind to the opportunities that tasty critters offer. Students and guests had the chance to experience the delicate flavor profiles of edible insects, like grasshoppers and bamboo worms, first-hand.
With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, we’ll need to find sustainable ways to deliver nutritious food to our growing population. So we asked Aly to share with our readers why bugs are not only a solution to this problem, but are also one of the more provocative food sources in discussion.
Written by Aly Moore, Founder of Bugible & EatBugsEvents.com
Bugs’ Culinary Potential
There are over 2,000 species of edible bugs, and many more to be discovered. They all have unique, beautiful flavor profiles just waiting to be explored.
Imagine that you have a friend who is an artist. She paints beautiful pictures, but only uses red, pink, and yellow. She can make lovely paintings, but one day you show her the other rainbow of colors that exist – the blues, greens, purples, oranges, silvers, and more. Now she can make even more vivid paintings.
That’s where we are in the culinary world. We have a huge range of raw ingredients that chefs use, but there are rainbows of additional flavors to explore with bugs! And bugs can be tasty.
One of the top restaurants in the world, Noma, has made use of bugs for many years on their menu. Fancy restaurants in France serve up snails – or escargot. Here’s another fun fact: Bugs are small enough that the quite literally are what they eat. If you have some crickets and feed them mint, they will have a minty flavor. If you feed your crickets banana, they will adopt a banana flavor. If you feed your crickets carrots, they will turn orange! There is so much we have to explore with bugs and we are just at the very beginning.
Some put bugs into three unofficial flavor categories. The first nutty and earthy. Crickets and mealworms are examples of bugs that taste a little like seeds, nuts, or mushrooms. The second is fishy and seafood-like. Locusts and scorpions are examples of bugs that have been compared to crab. The third is meaty and savory. Sago grubs are often called the bacon of the bug world.
How Chefs Carry Big Environmental Impact
Bugs are relatively unexplored treasures of ingredients. To communicate this with the world, we need innovative foodservice efforts to further establish the pleasure aspect of bugs in dishes with bug-forward menus. While it remains to be seen whether more restaurants will evaluate the environmental impact of their menus, recent surveys suggest that our understanding of sustainability issues continues to grow.
As the conversation around sustainability and impact continues to grow, we could see increased messaging around the environmental benefits of greater bug consumption. Additionally, restaurants and foodservice operations in all categories continue to make serious efforts to reduce their food waste (that often translate into cost-savings as well.)
Why Not Bugs?
Bugs are easier on the environment than traditional protein sources, packed with nutrition, and can taste great. There’s a reason why 80% of the world’s countries have been eating bugs for thousands of years. Choose any food enviro-metric you’d like: gallons of water, Co2 equivalents of greenhouse gases, acres of land, feed-conversion-ratio comparisons, you name it. Bugs come out ahead of traditional livestock like beef. Bugs are cold blooded, meaning they don’t waste energy converting feed into body heat. Bugs take 12x less food than cows, produce 100x less Co2, take 1000x less water to raise, and can be grown anywhere.
Not only are bugs healthy for the environment, but they are packed with nutrients for us as well. The nutrients of bugs vary depending on the species and on what they are fed. But as an example, if we compare 100g of crickets to 100g of beef, we might find the cricket has 2 to 3 times more protein, more calcium, more iron, more vitamin a, more fiber, potassium, and an ideal omega 3 to 6 ratio, and all 9 essential amino acids. Bugs are gluten free. They are about 60% protein.
Framing Bugs As Ingredients
There’s a saying: it’s always easier to go down than it is to go up. Actually, I’m not sure if that is a saying. But it’s certainly a known fact in the insect community that it will benefit the public perception of edible insects if we start with gourmet chefs and top restaurants rather than pushing bugs as an ’emergency food.’ Ideally, bugs will be available to empower communities already comfortable eating them and updated farming methods will make a big difference in malnourished communities. But if we want bugs to be an ‘everybody food,’ a staple rather than a novelty, we must start at the top.
We must admit to the catch-22 situation: while it’s hoped bug eating will become a notable global trend, turning them into an ‘aspirational’ food trend like kale or wheatgrass means certain bug dishes won’t be affordable for everyone… yet. But bugs have to be affordable for people to access them on a wide scale, and to get to that point we must increase the demand.
The father of cooking with bugs, Chef David George Gordon (aka The Bug Chef) shared some insight on how we might better work with chefs, “With insects, it’s challenging because most chefs in our country don’t have much experience or expertise in that arena. But there are many culinary tricks of the trade that chefs can bring to play, making the dishes they serve look and taste good, regardless of how many legs they ingredients may have. As such, they are important contributors to the process of gaining acceptance for bug cuisine.”
He brings up a great point. Many chefs might be hesitant to work with bugs simply because they don’t know how yet. We can change that with a strong educational push.
For this reason and many others, I’m thrilled and grateful to the International Culinary Center for opening their minds and mouths to the idea of eating bugs. The members of the ICC community continue to demonstrate their commitment to innovation and global mindfulness.
About Aly Moore:
Aly studied food policy at the Yale University of Public Health and gained experience through work at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Research, the National Health Services (NHS ENGLAND), and Monterey Tech Public Health (Mexico). She founded a startup called Spylight.com and continues her work in the space of entrepreneurship and entertainment at somebodystudios.com. Her overwhelming curiosity about edible insects lead her to found Bugible, a blog about the world of edible insects. After hosting fun and memorable events around eating bugs—bug wine pairings, bug dinners and bug cooking classes—EatBugEvents.com emerged as a way to make entomophagy accessible, educate the public, and support the great bug-entrepreneurs.