Five Ways to Start Eating Insects

The idea may be hard to swallow, but crickets and mealworms will likely be part of our sustainable food future

Fried insects, anyone? © Steven Vidler/Corbis

In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, crispy, chili-spiced chapulines (grasshoppers) are a common bar snack. Bee and wasp larvae are part of the indigenous cuisines of Taiwan and Japan. Stir-fried beef and ants is a traditional Khmer dish in Cambodia, witchetty grubs have sustained many generations of Aboriginal Australians. Insects, after all, are a source of sustainable protein.

Here are a number of new companies and products trying to make eating insects a more palatable prospect in the West, where the idea of ingesting “creepy crawlies” is still fairly taboo.

Raise Mealworms On Your Countertop

With the Livin Farms Hive, you can “start the next big food revolution out of your kitchen” by growing protein-rich mealworms on your desk or counter. The hive, which resembles those stackable, dorm-friendly plastic drawers, can produce up to 500 grams of mealworms per week.

Each drawer contains a different stage of the mealworm’s lifecycle. Mealworm pupae are placed in the hive’s top drawer, where they mature into beetles and lay eggs. The eggs drop down through a filter to a lower drawer and eventually hatch into mealworm babies. The babies grow to an edible size (about 3 centimeters long) and are collected in the bottom drawer. Some will transform back into pupae, and those can be put back in the top to start the cycle over again.

Once a week, you feed the mealworms vegetable scraps and harvest those that are plump enough to eat. According to the hive's creators, mealworms have a “bit of a nutty flavor” and make excellent crispy snacks or burger patties. Now in preorder, the hives are expected to retail for about $700. 

Sip an Ant-flavored Martini

The Nordic Food Lab, a Copenhagen-based nonprofit dedicated to exploring food and science, and a British microdistillery, have teamed up to create Anty Gin. Each bottle of the special spirit is flavored with the essence of approximately 62 red wood ants.

Infusing gin with ant bodies gives it some tartness, as it turns out. Ants produce formic acid, which they can spray as a defense against predators. This formic acid has a lemon and vinegar flavor. Also enhanced with juniper berries and various botanicals, Anty Gin retails for £210 (about $317). Unfortunately, it can’t be shipped to the U.S. due to import laws. So you’ll have to cross the pond for a tipple of the insect-infused intoxicant. 

Forget Grass-fed Beef. Try Maggot-fed Chicken.

AgriProtein, a South African company, has broken ground on a plant dedicated to what it calls “nutrient recycling.” In less euphemistic terms, what they’re doing is feeding fly larvae on food waste to raise maggots. The maggots are processed into meal, which can be used as a high-protein feed for chickens, fish and pigs. The maggot meal stands to be more sustainable than traditional animal feeds, including ocean-depleting fishmeal and resource-intensive soy

Bake Some Cricket Flour Cookies

Many proponents of insect eating have focused their efforts on crickets, which can easily be processed into a neutral-tasting, high-protein flour. A number of companies offer cricket flour for home cooks, as well as pre-made cricket goodies.

San Francisco-based Bitty Foods sells cricket cookies in tempting flavors, such as cocoa-chai and orange-ginger, or the basic cricket baking flour for a baker's own experiments. Portland-based Cricket Flours hawks chocolate, peanut butter and other flour flavors; cricket protein powder for smoothies; and cricket instant oatmeal. Exo, a cricket energy bar company now in New York, was founded in a dorm at Brown University. Its tagline: “Crickets are the new kale.”

Grow Your Own Crickets

For tinkering types, Canada’s Third Millennium Farming offers free downloadable plans for building cricket habitats. These shelters, constructed from various stacked boxes and tubes, are designed to be hygienic, escape-proof environments for edible cricket-raising. There's even a $150 pre-built option, if assembling sounds like too much of a hassle.

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