A quick check of our local markets, both indoor and outdoor, revealed that one of the current major food resources utilized in a great part of the rest of the world is not yet available in our area. Beautiful greens, a wide variety of fresh picked produce, most of it garden fresh and enticingly displayed, but no bugs. Well, not any visible to the naked eye, that is.
This is not the first time I’ve written about edible insects, but usually it’s around Halloween that I pull that out. However, it’s the United Nations who’s now telling us we’re missing the boat if we’re not eating bugs, and they’re serious about it. According to a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the U.N., two billion people worldwide supplement their diets with insects, which are high in protein and minerals, plentiful, and low cost.
“Insects are everywhere and reproduce quickly,” the report says, “and they leave a low environmental footprint.” Besides being high protein, bugs can also be rich in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, and most are also high fiber. Instead of popping a vitamin supplement, perhaps we should be popping a few ants, crickets, grasshoppers and assorted beetles every day. Biologists who analyzed the nutritional value of edible insects say they come close to lean red meat or broiled fish in terms of protein per ounce. I’m not sure how many crickets or grasshoppers it takes to make an ounce, however.
Insect farming is not a new idea; the fish and bait industry has been farming insects for fisheries use for years, but the agency suggests that worldwide insect farming could be an efficient and economical way to fight hunger throughout the world, and may be particularly useful as a food supplement for undernourished children. The trick, however, could be how to make the insects palatable for kids, even hungry kids.
There are places where insects are considered delicacies and people spend a lot of money to eat ant eggs, certain caterpillars, and some types of insect larvae, which are thought to be an aphrodisiac. I’ve been offered fried grasshoppers and crickets on trips to Mexico, and once found myself facing a plate of roasted assorted insects and worms, most of which I didn’t recognize. Yes, I sampled; it would have been considered rude not to, but I can’t say I found myself wanting more.
The Edible Insect Program, one aspect of the U.N. program, is now also studying the potential of spiders, scorpions and other arachnids, even though they’re technically not insects, to determine their nutritional potential and whether or not it would be beneficial to consider farming them, as well. Considering the colony of wolf spiders I found inhabiting a dark corner of our outdoor shed, I’d probably have the makings of a spider burger with no trouble.
Oddly enough, I happen to have in my cookbook collection, a book I found many years ago titled “Entertaining With Insects,” by Ronald Taylor and Barbara Carter, advocates of using insects of all types as sound nutritional practice. Utilizing insects in your cooking is not as bizarre as it may sound, as these recipes may demonstrate. Because mealworms and crickets are probably the most easily obtained locally, I’m using recipes that incorporate them specifically.
Biscuit dough (purchased or your own favorite recipe)
½ cup grated Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese (or use your favorite)
¼ cup marinated artichokes, chopped
¼ cup garlic butter fried mealworms, chopped (see below for prep.)
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
Roll or pat dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Cut it into 3-inch squares. In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Place 1 tsp. of this filling in the center of each dough square, moisten the corner of the dough with water and fold up the corners, pinching together to make a tart shape. Bake the tarts in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 10 min., until golden. Serve warm.
•Garlic butter fried mealworms: Mealworms should be refrigerated to keep them fresh and slow moving. When ready to use, shake the desired amount in a colander, blowing on the worms as you shake, to remove any packaging material. Melt ¼ cup butter in a skillet. Reduce heat and sauté 6 crushed cloves of garlic in the butter for 5 min. Add the mealworms and continue sautéing for 10-15 min., stirring occasionally. Remove mealworms from the pan and chop to prepare for the above recipe.
Tired of trying to make your green beans interesting? Try garnishing them with the garlic butter fried mealworms (see above), whole or chopped, instead of slivered almonds. Steam fresh green beans just to crisp-tender, drain, toss with melted butter or olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with garlic butter fried mealworms just before serving.
Bee pollen is relatively easy to obtain; check with health food stores and/or natural food vendors at outdoor markets. Then you can make your own nutritional, healthy all natural granola bars.
4 cups rolled oats
¾ cup sunflower seeds
¾ cup shredded coconut
½ cup sesame seeds
2/3 cup bee pollen
¾ cup slivered almonds
1 T. cinnamon (I love ginger, so I use half cinnamon half ginger)
1 cup pure natural honey (there are so many delicious honeys; use your favorite)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (you could also use coconut oil, if desired)
¾ cup raisins, dark or golden; your preference
Mix together all dry ingredients except raisins. Mix together honey and oil. Thoroughly combine wet and dry ingredients. Spread the granola mixture over a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 35 min. stirring often for even baking. Remove from oven; allow it to cool a bit. When partially cool, mix in the raisins, pressing mixture firmly on the sheet, then allow granola to cool completely. Cut into 3-inch squares.
Go online to get more information about obtaining, farming, or buying insects, as well as more recipes. You’ll be surprised how widespread the use of insects as food has become.