Are there environmental or health benefits to eating bugs?
Andy Greenberg, Brooklyn, NY
Wriggling larvae and jumping crickets—baked or pan-fried—are the key to our survival, some entomologists actually argue. Bountiful bugs (they make up four-fifths of the described animal species on the planet) are nutritious and delicious, and wonderfully efficient: They produce more protein with less food, energy, and emissions than any livestock.
From an environmental perspective, it’s clear why we should be consuming bugs, says Marcel Dicke, a Dutch entomologist who has been studying the benefits of eating insects—a practice called entomophagy—for the past 15 years. Raising pigs requires feeding them up to four times the food needed to produce the same amount of bug protein (for cows it’s 12 times). Also, studies show that beef and pork farms create up to 100 times the greenhouse gases produced by those rearing insects. Bugs are tasty, too, says Dicke: “We’re missing a lot of good food.”
The earth’s human population will swell from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. If food consumption keeps pace, we’ll need to produce 70 percent more animal protein in that time. More than 80 percent of the human population currently dines on insects, which are already in a lot of the foods we eat. Manufacturers crush dried insects to make cochineal extract or carmine, a red dye used to color foods like Ocean Spray Ruby-Red Grapefruit Juice and Yoplait strawberry yogurt. The main hurdle in many developed countries, including the United States, is the ick factor, says Dicke.
Some adventurous entrepreneurs are trying to popularize insect-based foodstuffs. Last year Matthew Krisiloff launched Entom Foods, which aims to make insect meat from mealworms or crickets more available. Florence Dunkel, a Montana State University entomologist, hosts an annual bug buffet with such insect dishes as mealworm quesadillas and cricket stir-fry. And Dicke and a colleague published The Insect Cookbook this year for the growing number of people who want to sample bug burgers and worm muffins.
Send recipes or other questions to email@example.com.
Recipes from David George Gordon, bug chef and author of Eat-A-Bug Cookbook
Yield: Six servings
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs—parsley, mint, thyme, and/or tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 red pepper, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 small yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges
12 frozen katydids, locusts, or other suitably sized Orthoptera, thawed
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a non-reactive baking dish. Add the Orthoptera, cover, and marinate overnight.
When ready to cook, remove the insects from the marinade. Pat them dry for ease of handling. Assemble each kabob, alternately skewering the insects, tomatoes, and onion wedges to create a visually interesting lineup.
Brush the grill lightly with olive oil. Cook the kabobs two or three inches above the fire, turning them every two or three minutes and basting them with additional olive oil as required. The exact cooking time will vary, depending on the kind of grill and types of insects used; however, the kabobs should cook for no longer than eight or nine minutes.
Yield: Six servings
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup orzo
1 cup two- to three-week-old cricket nymphs
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
1/4 cup finely diced green pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Bring the broth to a boil, then stir in the orzo.
Continue boiling the pasta until it is tender (about 10 minutes); drain any extra liquid, then quickly add the carrot and red and green peppers. Mix evenly and set aside.
In a separate skillet, melt the butter, adding the minced garlic, onions, and crickets. Sautee briefly, until the onions are clear and the garlic and crickets have browned.
Combine the cricket mixture, including any liquid, with the orzo and vegetables, top with parsley, and serve.
Iowa State University’s Entomology Club also has a number of recipes on its website (http://www.ent.iastate.edu/misc/insectsasfood.html). Below are a few to whet your appetite.
Rootworm Beetle Dip
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons skim milk
1/2 cup reduced-calorie mayonnaise
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dill weed
1 1/2 teaspoons Beau Monde
1 cup dry-roasted rootworm beetles
Blend the first three ingredients in a blender or food processor. Place in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and chill.
Chocolate Chirpie Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dry-roasted crickets
1 12-ounces chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla; beat until creamy. Beat in the eggs. Gradually add the flour mixture and insects, mixing well. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Mealworm Fried Rice
1 teaspoon oil
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup minute rice
1 cup cooked mealworms
Heat the oil in a saucepan, and scramble the egg, stirring to break it into pieces.
Add the water, onions, soy sauce, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil.
Stir in the rice. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for five minutes.