Insect Cuisine

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Eat Bugs, Save the World: The Ecology of Nutrition
Bug Me: San Francisco Helps Pioneer Insect Cuisine
This appliance makes gourmet meals out of maggots
Girl Meets Bug: EDIBLE: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet
Edible Insects & Bugs and their nutritional values - Grab some grub [infographic]
Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security (201 pages)

Eat Bugs, Save the World: The Ecology of Nutrition

As the world’s leaders convene to discuss the all-important issue of climate change, I wonder if there is room to consider the potential environmental benefits of adopting insects as a food source. Insects are the true “Eco-protein” — the most environmentally-efficient animal protein on the planet. This is because many food-insects, such as crickets, convert food and water much more efficiently into usable nutrition than cattle or other livestock.

For instance, insects require up to 20 times less food than cattle, meaning that per pound of food they are given, they produce several times the amount of protein. This is partly because insects — unlike their more complex, warm-blooded brethren — are cold-blooded creatures, so they “waste” far less energy warming up their blood. This energy is, instead, converted directly into increasing their body mass. If cows could do this, they would be enormous.

Also, hundreds of times less water is required per pound of usable protein. While cows may require up to “869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef (a large hamburger), a quarter pound of crickets only requires a moist paper towel, refreshed weekly,” says ecologist Nina Munteanu.

Currently, the livestock sector is one of the top contributors of greenhouse gases — some have said it rivals that of automobiles. Additionally, insects require far less grazing land per pound of protein output than cattle. Also, by more effectively utilizing the insects on our crops, we could reduce the amount of pesticides in our environment.

Yes, utilizing insects as food to help alleviate our planet’s problems may be an unusual approach to consider. But in this global climate, can we really afford not to?

Waxworms are the larvae of the Wax Moth, Achroia grisella, (AKA the Bee Moth), and are found in bee hives where they feed on honey, beeswax, pollen, etc. Waxworms tunnel through the honeycomb like Pac-Man, trying to avoid the bees while they munch on everything in sight. In captivity, waxworms are raised on a diet of wheat bran and honey, which explains their delicious, subtle flavor: a cross between chanterelle mushrooms and sweet almond meal. These particular waxworms came from San Diego Waxworms: They ship ’em right to your door.

Waxworm tacos are a very simple dish: just saute them with onions, olive oil and a dash of salt (and/or your seasoning of choice). Then pile on your favorite taco ingredients, and take a bite of clean, healthy, environmentally-efficient protein. You’ll be amazed at how good they are!

After freezing the critters overnight, we marinated them in a concoction of lime juice, honey, BBQ sauce, crushed garlic and ginger, and salt and pepper (no specific recipe — just ‘to taste’). Then, we skewered them with veggies and pineapple, basted everything with a honey-BBQ glaze (just honey and BBQ sauce mixed together), and popped them on the grill till they looked toasty. Crunchy-bug-goodness!

Scorpion, silkworm, superworm, and cricket kebabs with a honey-BBQ glaze

Bug Me: San Francisco Helps Pioneer Insect Cuisine

Daniella Martin eats 'em up. Yum. Photo by Kimberly Sandie. Hair and makeup by Ellyse Bernales. Animation by Andrew J. Nilsen

Mónica Martínez bills her Don Bugito food truck as a "pre-Hispanic snackeria." A 36-year-old Mexican immigrant with high cheekbones and raven hair, Martínez doesn't have a chef's résumé. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and is, at best, a journeyman cook. Yet her fare benefits from a few authentic, and unusual, ingredients.

The San Francisco resident's tacos are built on handmade tortillas of blue corn masa, and topped with pasilla chiles and a sauce of cilantro, mint, and parsley. Then there's the traditional element that most distinguishes her food.

"The idea of Don Bugito is inspired by pre-Hispanic cuisine," Martínez says as she rolls a moist clump of masa between her hands at La Cocina, a nonprofit organization at 25th and Folsom streets that offers commercial kitchen space and business consulting to cook-entrepreneurs. "So most of the ingredients are pre-Hispanic: peppers; tomatoes; obviously, insects."

Martínez drops a handful of pallid worms, similar to those a child might feed a pet gecko, into a frying pan, where they sizzle and take on a caramel-colored sheen.

Along with crickets and meal worms, these wax moth larvae anchor the menu at Don Bugito, which debuted on Aug. 20 at the San Francisco Street Food Festival. The Mission district event was staffed by 60 vendors and attended by tens of thousands of foodies, reflecting the explosion of interest in street food in the Bay Area culinary scene.

Martínez managed to hold her own with this discerning crowd: By festival's end, she had sold all her dishes. When the food truck commences permanent operations, which she says will happen by next month, it may be the first eatery in the country devoted exclusively to preparations involving insects.

Entomophagy, or the practice of eating bugs, remains a popular culinary habit in developing countries. Residents of the Mexican state of Oaxaca are famous for their taste for chapulines, or dried grasshoppers. In Thailand, Lethocerus indicus, the giant water bug, is consumed with gusto.

But for many in Europe, or countries settled predominantly by people of European descent, the idea of eating bugs triggers a gross-out reflex. Insects and arachnids are not for eating; if anything, they are to be kept as far away from our food as possible. One of the last prominent forays that entomophagy made into American popular culture was on the television game show Fear Factor, where contestants had to prove their mettle by eating live bugs without gagging.

That might be changing. Entomophagy has long been a cultist hobby among entomologists, inspiring offbeat conferences and festivals featuring such dishes as deep-friend tarantulas and cricket jambalaya. Now a small group of cooks and activists is trying to draw a broader audience for entomophagy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the local history of pioneering food fads, a number of them are based in the Bay Area.

"I think it's legitimate to say right now that San Francisco is a hotbed of insect cuisine," says David Gordon, a nationally renowned entomophagist and author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook.

Interest in entomophagy has also surged because of advocates' ambitious claims about the ecological benefits of putting bugs on our plates. As the environmental damage caused by large-scale, intensive animal husbandry becomes more apparent — a 2006 United Nations study found that industrial livestock operations contribute heavily to pollution and global warming — insects appear to be an efficient and virtually inexhaustible source of protein. The name of San Francisco entomophagist Rosanna Yau's company and website, MiniLivestock, hints at bugs' potential to solve long-term problems with our food supply.

Despite such enthusiasm, questions persist about entomophagy's widespread viability. With few reliable sources and virtually no distribution infrastructure for edible insects, bugs remain quite expensive, at least when measured pound-for-pound against other kinds of meat. Little is known about the health hazards of food insects, though scientific research in California has found that their knack for absorbing environmental toxins could make them a potentially dangerous treat. At present, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has almost no regulations for edible bugs.

A more fundamental issue concerns not logistics and health regulations, but culture and cuisine. Is it conceivable that lots of people would ever want to eat bugs on a regular basis? Could crickets be the next sushi, or are they a six-legged flash in the pan?

Before speculating on insects' prospects in the kitchen, it's not a bad idea to establish what they taste like. Daniella Martin, a San Mateo resident who runs a website devoted to insect cookery,, and writes about entomophagy for the Huffington Post, is a helpful authority on this subject. On a recent afternoon, she welcomed SF Weekly to her parents' home in the wooded hills between Menlo Park and Half Moon Bay to sample a bug smorgasbord.

At 34 years old, with green eyes and brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, Martin has the effusive but contained good manners of a stand-and-stir cooking-show hostess. She has worked in marketing and education administration, and discovered her passion for food insects in college while doing anthropological research in Mexico.

In the intervening years, she has pursued entomophagy as a hobby of increasing seriousness. She currently broadcasts a bug-cooking show on YouTube, and is putting together a proposal for a television series that would explore entomophagy in cultures around the world, with an emphasis on cooking techniques.

"What is really needed right now is a cooking show," Martin says, sporting a pink apron and setting up an unusual mise en place of wax moth larvae, bee larvae, scorpions, crickets, stink bugs, and grasshoppers next to the stove. "I don't want to alienate my male colleagues, but [people] need to see a woman cooking bugs and smiling and not being squeamish."

Martin prepares her favorite dish first: a canapé of fried wax moth larvae, diced oyster mushrooms and crème fraîche that she calls "Alice in Wonderland" because of the caterpillar and mushroom elements. Her method of preparing larvae is idiosyncratic: A cardinal rule of bug cuisine is that almost everything, even worms, should be cooked until crisp. "Most people will tell me, 'If I'm going to have an insect, it better crunch rather than gush,'" says Dave Gracer, an entomophagy advocate and food-insect supplier based in Providence, R.I.

By contrast, Martin cooks her wax worms slow and low in butter. The larvae and mushrooms blend to a virtually indistinguishable texture, color. and taste, soft and golden, their woody and earthy notes offset by the cream's silky tang. The bee larvae, fried and combined with lettuce and tomato in an entomophagist's BLT, are similar. "They taste like little, nutty, mushroomy raisins," Martin muses. This doesn't seem like eating bugs at all.

The crickets, grasshoppers, and scorpions are different. The animals' exoskeleton lends an unavoidable crunch to the dishes in which they are incorporated, reminding eaters, bite by bite, of what's in their mouths. But the texture is less jarring than the atypical flavor of the bugs' carapaces, which is not immediately appealing to the unaccustomed palate.

The exoskeletons have an iodine aftertaste redolent of the naturalist's laboratory. Yet when combined with other familiar flavors — Martin serves up a grasshopper on a slice of apple drizzled with honey — the taste of any bug recedes into the background. Like shrimp, crabs, and lobsters, insects impart a flavor that is mild and easily combined with other ingredients.

The comparison with ocean- and river-dwelling arthropods is one that often comes up in conversation with entomophagists. The animals share similar physical traits and belong to the same phylum. Some insects will even trigger shellfish allergies. "You have to scratch your head, from a logical perspective," says Zack Lemann, chief entomologist at the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans. "Why do we eat shrimp and crawfish but not their brethren on land?"

Lemann's facility, which opened in 2008, includes an interactive exhibit in the form of a cafe called "Bug Appetit." Visitors to the museum can sample a wide array of freshly prepared bug dishes. The idea, Lemann says, is to make insects more appealing to the layperson by presenting them as a potential food source. So how has Bug Appetit gone over with paying museum patrons?

"The short answer is that there is every reaction within the spectrum you might imagine," Lemann says. While some people refuse outright to eat bugs and others dine on them readily, he says the "vast majority" of people are of the "I didn't expect this, but I'm game" camp.

Wooing this bloc of entomophagy agnostics on a wide scale is a foremost goal of bug-eating advocates. To do so, activists talk less about insects' culinary merits and more about the broad effects entomophagy could have on human agricultural and environmental practices. In an age of growing consumer obsession with ethical and sustainable food sources, they argue that bugs are about the most ecologically sound food there is.

The environmental benefits of turning to bugs as food are most apparent, entomophagists maintain, when the nutritional benefits and environmental costs of insect gathering and farming are considered side by side with those of large-animal husbandry.

Cows are an inefficient means of converting grasses or grains into protein, consuming at least 10 pounds of silage for every two pounds of meat they produce. Insects, by contrast, are among nature's most efficient feed converters. The same 10 pounds of plant matter will support roughly seven or eight pounds of crickets, according to Frank Franklin, a retired pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist who teaches at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama. Insects don't emit ozone-depleting methane gas, and consume a low volume of water, compared to large mammals.

Bug farms also seem to obviate some of the ethical and environmental problems that plague industrial agriculture. There's nothing wrong with keeping many insects together in close quarters. Despite Western associations between insects and filth, many food bugs have exceedingly pure vegetarian diets — wax moth larvae, for instance, can subsist on nothing but bran and honey. Contrasted with the diets of say, farm hogs or ocean-dwelling crustaceans, that starts to look pretty good. "I like to point out that lobsters and crabs eat trash and feces and dead animals, and grasshoppers eat salad," Gracer says.

Insects are equal and in some ways superior to large mammals as a source of the protein and nutrients we seek from meat. Larvae like those cooked by Martin and Martínez are high in the healthful omega fatty acids now being widely purveyed through dietary supplements.

"It's as complete a protein as the protein in cow's milk," says Franklin, who has studied entomophagy and is convinced that mass-rearing food insects could alleviate nutritional deficiencies among children in developing countries. "They've been eaten for eons, so we know they're relatively safe," he says. "They can live on just about anything, they reproduce very rapidly, they produce a high-quality product, and they produce lower greenhouse gases" than livestock operations.

With all this to recommend them, why haven't insects gained widespread acceptance as a protein source? For one thing, they're not cheap. Almost no infrastructure exists for the large-scale production of food insects, let alone the kind of agricultural subsidies that bring inexpensive meat to our supermarkets. Bugs' resulting scarcity makes them, strangely enough, a luxury pantry item. Gracer says it's difficult to buy wax moth larvae, one of the most easily and commonly raised types of food bug, for less than $25 per pound.

Not everybody buys into the image of insects as a no-downside food. A study published in 2007 in the American Journal of Public Health determined that dried grasshoppers imported from Oaxaca were "highly contaminated" with lead from abandoned mines and the pottery they were cooked in, leading to lead poisoning among Latino children in Monterey County.

"Insects like grasshoppers and those with hard outer shells are great bio-accumulators, and in the case of being in leaded surroundings, they were accumulating lots of lead, and they were contaminated at extremely high levels," Margaret Handley, a UCSF professor of epidemiology and biostatistics who participated in the study, wrote in an e-mail to SF Weekly.

Concerns about such possible contamination led the San Francisco Department of Public Health to start looking last summer into La Oaxaqueña, a popular restaurant selling chapulines in the Mission District. Health inspector Kenny Wong says proprietor Harry Persaud said he could furnish some documentation indicating his grasshoppers came from a safe source in Mexico, but decided to not import more of the bugs. The restaurant closed down soon after the health department's inquiry began. Persaud could not be reached for comment.

Wong says that he and other health inspectors at the state and local level are going to need more guidance from federal authorities if insects' popularity as an edible product continues to grow. "People are taking it more seriously as a food source, so we need to look at it," he says. "The thing is, I can't look at it just as an inspector. It needs to be looked at from way up on top."

Even if a regulatory framework for edible bugs is established and an arsenal of delicious insect preparations developed, entomophagy advocates face a final hurdle: the deeply ingrained cultural aversion to insects as food that probably led you to grimace at the thought of eating a scorpion.

The more one thinks about it, the less rational it seems. What are the differences, really, between a shrimp and a grasshopper, a wax worm and escargot, caviar and ant eggs? (The latter are consumed in Mexico as a delicacy called escamoles.) Entomophagists have tried to re-brand the land-based arthropods with various cute names, such as "land shrimp" or, in Martin's formulation, "terra prawns." (She says she was told it sounded too similar to "terrifying prawns.") None of it seems to stick.

"Fundamentally, our problem with insects is a problem with critical-thinking skills," Gracer says. "We just assume they're bad because everyone has always told us they are."

Theories abound about the roots of that legacy. Bug-eating hasn't always been verboten in the Western world. As Gordon points out, no less a figure than John the Baptist subsisted on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Somewhere along the line, that tolerance for entomophagy was lost.

Some argue that pest insects became vilified as competitors for our primary agricultural food sources. Others speculate that Europe's temperate climate didn't offer the wide range of edible bugs that might have hooked its residents on entomophagy, like the people of Mesoamerica or Southeast Asia. Another view holds that industrial pesticide companies provoked mass revulsion toward insects in the second half of the 20th century with spooky ads about the evils of cockroaches, termites, and other bugs.

Emmet Brady, who runs the Oakland-based Insect News Network, says that our distaste for insects as food is rooted in the Western world's gradual withdrawal from and discomfort with wild things generally. "When spiritual traditions began to clamp down on nature, view nature as evil, insects were one of the easiest symbols of nature to demonize," he says. Of course, that doesn't explain our continued acceptance of, and reverence for, such symbols of nature as venison and wild salmon.

Yau, of MiniLivestock, tried to address and overcome anti-entomophagy sentiments with her final project in the graduate design program at the California College of the Arts. Her thesis, Minilivestock: Exploring Rhetorical Methods to Promote Consuming Insects as Food, examined different ways of processing and packaging mealworms to make them more palatable to American consumers. Among the innovations featured were a mill, similar to a pepper grinder, for crushing dried worms, and energy bars made with ground bugs and granola.

On a recent afternoon, Yau, 28, sat in a coffee shop in SoMa — the neighborhood where she now works as a designer at a tech company, in addition to her entomophagy projects — and explained that while her bug-branding efforts met with some success, she's reticent to get behind some of the more enthusiastic claims entomophagists make on behalf of insects as a viable global food source.

"I don't think I'm qualified to say insects are going to save the world or anything like that," Yau says. "Telling someone to do something because it's good for them" isn't enough, she says. "They're not going to do it unless they feel an emotional connection." That will probably require the advent of bug food so tasty, and so unlike other dishes, that people will crave it, and not just experiment with it.

Here in San Francisco, Martínez is trying to make that a reality. At La Cocina, she serves a reporter what will be Don Bugito's signature dish: wax moth larvae tacos. She spoons the crisp worms over beds of blue-corn tortillas and green salsa. A bite yields a crunchy texture and a mild, fatty flavor not unlike that of pork rinds.

"To me, it tastes like chicharonnes,"Martínez says.

For now, that might be enough to win Don Bugito a stable of adventurous foodie fans. But for the entomophagy movement to truly arrive, cooks and activists will have to convince people to turn to insects for their own sake. It's a moment that won't come until wax moth larvae are the preferred food of the hungry and hungover, rather than of dilettantes who can tolerate a worm that tastes like fried pork.

Girl Meets Bug: EDIBLE: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet

This book has taken a third of my life to write: it includes nearly 13 years of study, travel, following my curiosity, and researching weird stuff most people never even think to think about. Not to mention all the crazy stuff I ate.

I’ve been bitten and stung by all kinds of bugs, in all kinds of places, to make this book. I tasted over 35 different species, including those that are venomous, squishy, slimy, and even alive. I had 48 hours in beautiful Phuket, and spent most of them in the mosquito-ridden forest so I could eat giant palm larvae (I literally had 45 minutes at the beach). I got very ill in gorgeous places. I puked repeatedly in a 5 star hotel. ALL FOR YOU.

Eating insects is the Next Big Thing. Nations around the world are waking up to this idea, to the potential it has to change the way we eat and relate to our environment. Millions are being spent to discover just how far we can run with something that we’ve overlooked till now. This book will get you up to date on why, how, and where to eat bugs. It’s an adventure totally unlike anything you’ve seen or heard, a new dimension in science, nutrition, travel, culture and cuisine.

Eat bugs, save the world.

Here are some reviews of my book, written by real people (not lizards):

“Regardless of readers’ culinary proclivities, [Daniella] Martin’s lively book poses timely questions while offering tasty solutions.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In this chatty, informative, and eminently readable manifesto–cum–food travelogue, Martin takes the reader along as she talks to chefs who cook with insects, muses about vegetarianism and veganism (and why being a vegan ultimately won’t work), collects corn earworms from a community farm, rhapsodizes on the flavor of sautéed waxworms, and, in general, turns us on to eating bugs.” —Booklist

“It’s not easy for most Americans to see this, but insects are going to be a far bigger part of our menus in the next 25 years. Daniella Martin’s Edibleis a fun, articulate look at the world of entomophagy, and the arguments for adding insects to our diet.” —Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste ofTomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food

“Daniella Martin’s contagious ‘entosiasm’ for eating insects makes you rush to join the insect-eating movement that people in the Western world left aside by mistake in the past.” —Marcel Dicke, professor of entomology at Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and author ofThe Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet

This is my tailless whip scorpion, Freddy. He’s a big sweetie, unless you’re an insect. In that case, he’s your worst nightmare.

P.S. I actually don’t know if Freddy is a boy or a girl (I figure the name Freddy can go both ways). If anyone can tell me what he/she is, I’d love to know! For now, I’m not imposing binary gender expectations on him/her. ;)

This fabulous new infographic is by Adam Frost and Paulo Estriga for the Guardian:

My book, “Edible: An Adventure in the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet,” is available to order on Amazon!

It’s an easy-to-read primer on entomophagy: the history, science, and culture behind this fascinating tradition. It’s also a travelogue of my journey around the US and to Europe and Asia to meet some of the biggest proponents – and consumers – of edible insects on the planet. There are also delicious recipes, a how-to guide for raising insects, and an updated list of edible bugs.

If you’re interested in entomophagy, I believe I’ve done a pretty good job of explaining the subject in a way that’s both entertaining and informative. I also ate, and described my experience of eating, some pretty wild species, so there’s that, too.

Hey folks, just an FYI – I do WAYYY more posting on my FB page, than I do on my blog. I post a few times a day there, on average.

I have no excuse for this, except that I get the instant gratification of immediate feedback, and posting just a photo is totally legit. Ok, that’s a couple of excuses.

Anyway, c’mon over and see what I’m up to – lots of opportunity for discussions, commentary, etc. And I keep you up to date with breaking bug news, jokes, and cool pictures. Like this one of me eating Oo-suzumebachi, or Japanese Giant Hornet, and The Oatmeal saying I give him nightmares.

I grew up in the Midwest where just being vegetarian was considered pretty adventurous. So you can imagine the reaction I got after 15 years of being vegetarian/pescatarian when I described the bug-eating party that I was hosting.

The party was inspired by a TEDTalk given by Marcel Dicke a few years back called “Why Not Eat Insects?” I couldn’t think of a reason why my friends and I shouldn’t at least try it out.

“What does that make you?” my mom asked, totally confused.

I understand; I mean it’s not like there are a whole lot of “entomophagous pescatarians” running around out there. But sometimes you just have to shrug and go with it, especially when going with it leads to discovering a surprisingly delicious chocolate cookie recipe.

Our party provided a variety of edible insect options, including: chocolate-covered crickets, salted queen ants, scorpion lollies, mealworm trail mix, and even a dehydrated giant water scorpion. But the favorite had to be these no-bake mealworm drop cookies. These rich and comforting cookies have a peanut butter & chocolate smoothness with a Rice Krispie-like crunch. It is a super-easy holiday recipe that my family has enjoyed for years (well, we’ve enjoyed it sans bugs). This version has been mealworm-ified a bit.

This appliance makes gourmet meals out of maggots

With enough practice any hack can create a CAD rendering of a blender or produce an iPhone mockup that'll earn hundreds of likes on Dribbble, but designing a device that convinces people to make a meal out of maggots? That requires a special level of skill. Designer Katharina Unger is on a mission to make eating insects irresistible.

The recent graduate from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and current Fulbright Scholar devoted her thesis project, called Farm 432: Insect Breeding, to developing an appliance that incubates insects for human consumption. The striking blue and white vessel is stocked with one gram of black soldier fly eggs, and over a period of 18 days, the eggs move through the device's chambers, gestating, reproducing, and ultimately producing 2.4 kilograms of nutritious, if slightly nauseating, fly larva.

This frightful food processor was invented to satisfy the meat cravings of the nine billion people expected to be living on Earth in 2050. To support that population, protein production will have to double and farming, primarily livestock cultivation, already uses up half of the planet's arable land, making it difficult to expand.

Many believe the solution will lie in entomophagy, also known as eating bugs, but getting Westerners to make insects a big part of their diet will require a marketing program the size of Mothra.

Unger's device hides the dirty and disgusting aspects of the process while employing design language from mainstream consumer products to make the concept seem more familiar.

The concept unsettles many stomachs, but according to Unger, we already consume 500 grams worth of insects in our food annually. There can be up to 60 insect fragments in a 100 gram chocolate bar, and insect-infested fruits that can't be sold as produce are turned into juice. Starbucks even used crushed beetles to color their strawberry Frappucinos for a time. People seem willing to deal with the taste and texture of edible insects as long as they're presented properly. Here are five design principles Unger employed to make her flies seem flavorful.

Do your (repugnant) market research

There are approximately 1,400 edible species of insect, yet there isn't a single skeevy sommelier to educate the masses about proper pest pairings. Unger took the challenge on herself and began sampling grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, and other vile vittles. "I felt okay with all that, but grabbing/touching the animals was gross," she says. "I knew the only way people would grow insects at home was without having to touch them." This informed the design of the appliance and users never have to touch the insects until it's time to cook.

Make the disgusting delightful

While most of her classmates were making models of cars or furniture, Unger was harvesting insects. Initially suspicious, her peers eventually came to appreciate the eco-friendly goal and even partook in a slightly terrifying taste test.

Unger attributes this open-mindedness to the way her appliance produces the flies. "We tend to associate insects with negative imagery: destroyed crops, plagues, manure," she says. Her design is clean, almost to the point of being clinical, and promotes a sense of trust. "Once people see how the larvae can be grown, that they clean themselves before they are ready to eat, they become very curious and forget their prejudices."

Create a community to go with your contraption

The idea of eating bugs may seem bizarre now, but blogs devoted to entomophagy are popping up and award winning chefs have begun integrating creepy-crawlies into their cuisine. With the right products and promotion, Unger thinks the distasteful could eventually become delicacies. "It is comparable with the backyard chicken movement or growing vegetables on your balcony," she says. "There are almost 2,000 edible insect species. The variety of tastes and different dishes is endless. We miss out a lot by not considering this food source!"

Pollinate your idea

Unger didn't stop at growing the flies — she also developed recipes, including a stellar tomato and larva risotto, to help make the icky output more enticing. She's now working out how changing the diet of the larva would impact taste. "I always speculated what happened if I gave them just one specific type of food," she says. "Maybe you could make them taste like strawberries?"

Create buzz

Turning insects into a protein powder or peanut butter-like substance could help introduce edible insects to the mass market more smoothly, but Unger wanted her project to make a statement. "I felt it would be inconsequential to suddenly hide the main product away," she says. "In the end it is not only about producing food, but also about the adventure of growing live animals in your home!"

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