Monday, October 23, 2017

Bugged about Dinner?

Grasshopper preparing to fly.
The conventional way that gardeners look at insects and other creepy crawlers is with the question, "friend or foe?"

However, with a subtle change in perspective you can take the word "foe" right out, although I'm not sure that "friend" would always be the right term. I'm a fan of looking at the plant-munching insects as simply critters being themselves and trying to survive. That doesn't mean I don't take steps to prevent them from eating my plants (such as squishing them), but changing my attitude makes a difference in how I approach that task.

Recently, we've begun to describe these critters -- in particular, the grasshoppers -- by another term; "lunch." Or perhaps "dinner," or "breakfast."

Human beings all over the world routinely consume insects as part of their normal diet. Let me add, they intentionally consume these insects, in some cases considering them delicacies. Insects and other creepy crawlies contain many nutrients, including amino acids (proteins). The critters add diversity to the diet and supplement other protein sources. In some areas they might even provide a significant portion of dietary protein. Even some vegetarian peoples will eat the buglies even if they eat no other animal proteins. In Mexico they eat roasted grasshoppers seasoned with lime and chilies. They are called chapulines.

Here in the U.S.A. however we have a general aversion to bugly critters of every kind, regardless of the benefits they provide. Eating creepy crawlies is simply out of the question. People even get hysterical when they learn that food processors can allow a certain amount of bug parts in the foods they package.

We've all eaten plenty of bugs without knowing it. I'm sure that not all of the aphids get washed off my lettuce and kale. Occasionally I find tiny caterpillars in my steamed greens, so certainly I've eaten a few. Why not take the next step and intentionally eat some of these critters?

So we've taken to hunting grasshoppers and crickets. You definitely want to cook these critters. The grasshoppers turn an interesting red color when you either saute in butter or boil them. No, they don't taste like chicken. They don't have much flavor at all, and the texture is sort of crispy. The key to catching grasshoppers is to speak calmly to them and not think about the fact that you intend to eat them. On these chilly mornings they move very slowly, but can be difficult to find. You don't need to hunt your own as you can go online and find sources for ready-to-eat bugs. An easy way to get some bug nutrition in your diet is to buy some cricket flour and add some to your favorite flour-based recipe.

Moving bugs into our diets has been touted as one way to provide protein to the growing human population in a more sustainable manner. A couple of thousand bug species are edible and routinely consumed. Here are a few common ones.

In my research I ran across Web sites describing recipes high end chefs created for using bugs. I'm intrigued by the stink bug (yes, stink bugs), which another Web site described as tasting like apples. I say "no" to the tarantula and dragonfly dishes. Not because they're creepy, but because I like spiders and dragonflies a lot in a non-culinary sort of way. I would never intentionally eat them.

One chef who has written a book of buggy cuisine piqued my interest with his description of wax moth larvae, which destroy honey bee hives by eating honey and honeycomb wax. That sort of diet sounds like one that would create some sweet meat. He said that when baked into cookies they taste like pistachios. He gave tips on cooking with insects in this 2013 interview.

I think I'd be up for some wax moth cookies. And I'm eyeing those green stink bugs with a different attitude. It seems like it wouldn't take much effort to gather enough for an intriguing stir fry. For now though, it's crickets and grasshoppers. Bon appétit.

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