aly moore

Exploring The Flavor Profiles of Bugs

Written By Aly Moore, Founder of Bugible

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. Welcome to the world of edible bugs.  

Back in the 1960’s, sushi was considered barbaric. We couldn’t understand why people would eat raw fish. Slowly but surely, more businessmen from Japan started doing business in California. They started requesting sushi, but we were not sold. Then, a clever chef introduced the California Roll. He disguised the fish in rolls of rice and avocado, making the dish less intimidating for Americans. Photographs emerged of celebrities eating this new dish and it went from being barbaric to trendy. Now, we can’t get enough of it!

It is my hope that bugs will take a similar path. But we have to take a few steps to get there. One of the biggest factors is the name— we don’t eat raw fish, we eat sushi. We don’t eat cows, we eat beef. We don’t even necessarily eat plants, we eat vegetables. A different name for bugs may be the path that we have to follow.

It’s also important to note that bugs are easier on the environment than traditional protein sources, they’re packed with nutrition and can taste great. They are not the only solution to sustainably feed our growing population, but they are the most provocative.

Instead of asking why we eat bugs, we should be asking, why not?

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.

A big step along the way to normalcy is to get chefs on board. Chefs are the “Gate Keepers of Consumer Preference” and continue to expand our cuisines with innovative concepts and eclectic menus. It’s not uncommon for one chef alone to drive a vibrant micro-food culture in a city, thus expanding appreciation for new foods and dishes that can impact customers’ attitudes nationwide.

Over the last three years, for example, we have seen a trend of vegetable-focused menus. The results is a “normalization” of vegetable dishes as fully belonging on acclaimed menus and as vehicles for culinary creativity. If bugs are to earn a place on casual menus, it will be critical for chefs to champion our efforts. While several restaurants, especially Oaxacan or other ethnic cuisines, are experimenting with bugs on the menu, this practice could become much more common if chefs had more access to education and supplies of edible insects.

The more we work to explore the flavors and uses of insects in cuisine, the more frequently we might see the occasional salad topped with black ants, margarita glass rimmed with grasshopper salt, or bread baked with cricket powder. This might not be immediately obvious until we learn more about these ingredients. Below, check out some of the ways you can incorporate these ingredients into your dishes!

Black Ants

black antsBlack ants have a naturally acidic quality from the formic acid in their systems, giving them a zesty lemon-pepper taste. Their texture reminds some of roe, and they are often affectionately refer to them as the caviar of the bug world. While some bugs can star as the feature in dishes, black ants are more likely to serve as garnishes and flavor-enhancers. Imagine their zesty flavor and striking color sprinkled on top of grilled shrimp, tossed into an arugula salad, or even as a topper for the popular childhood dish “ants on a log!”

Grasshoppers

There are grasshoppers, and then there are Chapulines. Really, they mean the same thing (one in English and one in Spanish.) But I often use the distinction to refer to unseasoned grasshoppers vs. those flavored Oaxacan-style.

Plain, their flavor will still be strong – a savory umami, a bit like miso. Some describe an acidic mushroomy earthiness.. If you’ve ever rubbed hay in your hands, you will understand how this tastes. It’s a bit like unprocessed wheat, or similar to raw pasta. Often confused for crickets, grasshoppers share the familiar skeletal crunch with a meaty and more chewy texture (grasshoppers supposedly have longer migratory patterns and thus have more muscle on their bodies.)

Seasoned, perhaps with “Adobo flavor,” the Chapulines become a delicious snack. They smell like Christmas, chili, and citrus all in one, and tasting them will leave you with just a hint of pine on your pallet. They taste of a beautiful smoky spice with a hint of sour, sometimes also wonderfully fruity. Seasoned with a bit of lime, chili, and tajin, grasshoppers are able to hold onto a cool, lingering heat.

Crickets

cricket cookiesCrickets are one of the most commonly farmed bugs in the US. This is not because they are the best bugs, but simply because we know the most about optimizing their breeding cycles, nutrient contents, and flavor profiles. Crickets are best described as flavor vehicles like potato chips. They are often seasoned with flavors like BBQ or lime, as their plain taste can be difficult to distinguish.

Unseasoned, they taste a bit like edamame and have an earthy umami quality. Regardless, a nutty, woodsy flavor comes through, sometimes accompanied by a shrimp quality (from the high omega-3 content). Crickets are also commonly ground up into a powder that can be used in baking, substituting 5 – 20% of the dry ingredients.

We’ve made progress in this dialogue as a society before: remember that the creeping, shelled, 10-legged crustacean we now so lovingly dip in butter (ahem, the lobster)  was once considered so repulsive as to be inhumane to feed to prisoners. And in many parts of the world, bugs are already a popular—and important—menu item. Let’s continue to open minds and mouths with six-legged livestock.

About Aly Moore

My name is Aly Moore and I eat bugs. It might sound strange to many, but bugs are sustainable, packed with nutrition, and tasty when prepared correctly. While studying public health and food policy at Yale University, I took a trip to Mexico and tried grasshoppers for the first time. After returning to the States, my impish inclinations led me to research how to buy bugs safe for human consumption in the U.S. (to prank friends and family, of course.) Due to the lack of information available back in 2012, I ended up calling the owners of a few cricket farms, and those discussions changed my life. I soon began working closely with bug companies to educate western consumers about this stigmatized food.

I created Bugible, a blog about the world of edible insects, to share what I was learning. To reach broader audiences, I started hosting fun and memorable events around eating bugs to create atmospheres where first-time-bug-eaters could feel more at ease (like bug wine pairings, bug dinners, and bug cooking classes.) EatBugsEvents.com emerged as a way to make entomophagy accessible, educate the public, and support the great bug-entrepreneurs.

bugible

Bugible: How & Why We Eat Bugs

Explore the flavor profiles of the food of the future—bugs! 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. Bugs are not only a solution to this problem, but are also one of the more provocative food sources in discussion.

There’s a reason why 80% of the world’s countries have been eating bugs for thousands of years. Bugs come out ahead of traditional live stock, like beef, in any food enviro-metric—gallons of water, Co2 equivalents of greenhouse gases, acres of land, feed-conversion-ration comparisons and more.

ICC is excited to be hosting 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’ll examine the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, discuss how to overcome the stigma surrounding edible bugs and encourage chefs of the next generation to have an open mind to the opportunities that tasty critters offer. Join us for a guided tasting on Wednesday, June 5th from 3:30-5pm to explore the delicate flavor profiles of critters like grasshoppers and bamboo worms.

JOURNEY THROUGH THE WORLD OF ENTOMOPHAGY

Wednesday, June 5th | 3:30-5:00pm
International Culinary Center
462 Broadway, 2nd Floor Theater

About Aly Moore

aly mooreAfter studying public health at Yale University, Aly Moore searched for a way to address the challenges to feed our growing sustainably and nutritiously feed our growing population. She started Bugible.com (blog) to support the growing insect agriculture industry and slowly grew a cult following on Instagram. To reach broader audiences, Eat Bugs Events was formed as an Aladdin’s den of unique educational events like Bug & Wine Pairings, Bug Dinners & Bug Cooking Classes. Since, Bugible has become the leading media & PR brand for the insect agriculture industry, appearing on Netflix’s Bill Nye, Food & Wine, Forbes, & others. Today, Bugible focuses on continuing to spread awareness about other sustainable and nutritious potential of bugs through collaborations with institutions of all kinds from the International Culinary Center, Yale University, Parks & Recreation Districts, or even the Girl Scouts of America.

She is heavily involved in growing the industry’s trade organization – The North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture (NACIA). Learn more here. 

Aly Moore

Bugs Are Sustainable

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.