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Eating insects: Would you cook with grubs?

Eating insects is not for the faint-hearted, or is it? Chef Stefan Gates argues that most of us eat insects already, and for those that do not, it is easy to add them to an everyday diet.

I've got good bug news and bad bug news... although you may not agree with me about which is which.

First, for anyone who finds entomophagy (insect-eating) weird or unpleasant, you should know that 99.9% of people regularly eat insects in some form already, which I will reveal more of later.

In fact, to my total and utter delight it is almost impossible to avoid eating them.

Second, for anyone who (like me) is deeply concerned about how we are going to feed a global population of nine billion in 2050, I offer you an absurdly, unfathomably large statistic: there are estimated to be 10 quintillion insects - or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 - alive on earth at any given time.

Are you already eating bugs?

Red velvet cake

Carmine (E120) is made from cochineal bugs and can be found in some red food colouring.

Bake a delicious red velvet cake

I think we should all consider changing our diets to include plentiful, protein-rich, eco-friendly, low methane-producing bugs.

I know it's a huge leap to change our prejudices and perceptions of disgust and natural revulsion, but in global terms it is the non-bug eaters who are the weird ones: an estimated 80% of the world happily eats insects by choice, and many of them are delicious, nutritious and cheap.

I know this because I've tasted them. Raw red ant eggs, fried grasshoppers, crickets, silkworm pupae, agave larvae, Mopani worms, fat-bottomed ants: all delicious.

Bamboo worms taste just like Jerusalem artichokes. I'm not blinded by enthusiasm, mind - giant water bugs are like eating credit cards and palm weevils are simply too "chatty" - their faces look like they are smiling.

Nutritionally they are mostly very high in protein (mealworms are around 50%, red-legged locusts are 75% and leafcutter ants around 58%) which is excellent news, if irrelevant to how most people really choose their food.

Grub's up:

Mealworm burgers

Whizz up Stefan's mealworm burger

Why not eat insects?

What would a bushtucker diet do to the body?

But here is the bad news: collecting enough insects from the garden to make a decent meal in the UK is, like eating celery, calorie-neutral.

Our climate produces relatively few bugs compared to warmer countries so you're likely to burn as many calories hunting and metabolising them as you get in return from eating them.

Which is why three of my recipes are for adventurous gourmets who are willing to put a bit of extra effort and foraging in for an eye-opening lunch.

But there is a solution: insect farming.

It's only a matter of time before cheap, plentiful farmed bugs are available in the UK - cricket farms are big business in Thailand and the Dutch are already farming organic mealworms just across the Channel.

They're pretty ecologically-sound, too, fed on waste wheat chaff so they don't take grain out of the food chain (unlike most beef, chicken and pork).

Stefan's recipes:


Crispy crickets:

  • Take a large handful of crickets and deep-fry in sunflower oil until crispy.
  • Toss in a little freshly-picked thyme, season with salt crystals and serve warm as a snack.

Woodlouse cocktail:

  • Take a handful of woodlice, rinse and blanch in boiling water, then use as if prawns in a prawn cocktail.

Earthworm stir-fry:

  • Purge your earthworms as if they were snails (otherwise they'll be a bit gritty), then blanch in boiling water and add to a stir-fry as you would use chicken.

Most importantly, once this is done on a large scale they will be cheap, and that, my friends, is how insects are going to end up in our supermarket baskets.

The day that an insect protein-burger costs only a quarter as much as a beefburger is the day that people will finally, nervously, falteringly reach for a pack. Then everything changes - for the planet, for the world's one billion hungry, for you.

There are a lot of edible insects available in the UK, but they are mostly shockingly expensive in relation to their production cost because they are sold as gimmick food to shock or amuse.

You can find curried crickets, horribly dry Mopani worms and fat-bottomed ants at eye-bleeding prices.

So what can you feasibly cook with now?

Freeze-dried organic mealworms are probably your best bet, but even they are specially imported, so not that cheap yet.

When you fancy an adventure, you could try my recipe for gourmet mealworm burgers.

You need to add a fair bit of oil as the freeze-drying process makes the meat very dry.

And why are 99.9% of you regular insect-eaters?

Well, if you have ever eaten any pink sweet, you are likely to be eating cochineal bugs, which produce a deep pink and purple colouring, also called E120 or carmine.

Sink your teeth in:

Michel Roux Jnr and Kate Goodman

Food & Drink with Michel Roux Jnr and Kate Goodman starts Monday 4 Feb, on BBC Two at 20:30 GMT.

It is used extensively in supermarket sausages, Battenberg cake and all manner of confectionery.

If you have really got through your life avoiding those, how about bread?

Each kilo of wheat flour is allowed to contain lots of insect fragments - in the US more than 500 insect fragments are allowed per kilo.

And have you ever eaten honey? That's multi-regurgitated bee vomit, that is.

In a good way, mind.

Watch more from Stefan on BBC Two's Food & Drink starting Monday 4 Feb at 20:30 GMT. Or catch his documentary on entomophagy in March.

Follow BBC Food on Pinterest and on twitter: @BBCFood and Food & Drink on twitter: @bbcfoodanddrink

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