They’re sus­tain­able, nu­tri­tious and even tasty, and it’s time they were on your plate. Yes, in­sects are com­ing to a cafe or restau­rant near you. LINDY ALEXAN­DER ex­plores the buzz sur­round­ing the lat­est su­per­food

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday -

We usu­ally try to keep bugs and in­sects away from our plates, but a grow­ing num­ber of chefs are em­brac­ing lit­tle crit­ters as an im­por­tant part of the sus­tain­able food move­ment. Eat­ing in­sects, known as en­to­mophagy, is stan­dard prac­tice for al­most two bil­lion peo­ple world­wide. Can that many bug eaters be wrong? Ac­cord­ing to Ed­i­ble In­sects: Fu­ture

Prospects For Food And Feed Se­cu­rity, a re­port by the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions, en­to­mophagy has nu­mer­ous nu­tri­tional and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits. Re­search has found that bugs are a vi­able al­ter­na­tive source of pro­tein that pro­duce less green­house gases and use less land than chicken, pigs and cat­tle. In short, ed­i­ble in­sects are eco-friendly.

En­to­mol­o­gist and food sci­en­tist Skye Black­burn started breed­ing in­sects in 2007 and runs the only farm for them in Aus­tralia. “We sup­ply over 30 cafes and restau­rants na­tion­wide with things like cricket pow­der, whole crick­ets, meal­worms and ants,” says Black­burn, who is based in western Syd­ney.

“In­sects have a lot of pro­tein and es­sen­tial mi­cronu­tri­ents like cal­cium, iron, zinc, potas­sium, B vi­ta­mins and amino acids. They’re healthy, ver­sa­tile and sus­tain­able.”

Sus­tain­abil­ity was one of the main rea­sons chef Atick Elahi put crick­ets on the menu of Mex­i­can restau­rant El Topo in Syd­ney’s Bondi Junc­tion. “Our cur­rent agri­cul­ture in­dus­try is one of the big­gest con­trib­u­tors to global warm­ing,” he says. “We need to change the way we pro­duce food to cope with the in­creased de­mand on our nat­u­ral re­sources. Ed­i­ble bugs are the best op­tion.”

Mex­i­can cui­sine tra­di­tion­ally uses in­sects – like cha­pu­lines (grasshop­pers). “We serve our crick­ets with gar­lic, dried red chilli, fresh lime zest and sea salt,” says Elahi. “They taste slightly nutty, which bal­ances nicely with the zingy lime and heat of the chilli.”

While some find bugs un­ap­petis­ing, many of us have al­ready had them in the form of red cor­dial, as the colour is of­ten de­rived from the cochineal bee­tle. And in­sects likes witch­etty grubs, honey ants and moths have long formed part of bush tucker for In­dige­nous Aus­tralians.

Billy Zar­bos of Mel­bourne cafe Jethro Canteen in Rich­mond likens the wari­ness some peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence to the in­tro­duc­tion of sushi in Aus­tralia. “We thought raw fish was un­ap­peal­ing and un­healthy at first, but now it’s main­stream,” he says. “In­sects will fol­low a sim­i­lar path.” Crabs, prawns, and lob­sters are arthro­pods too, and they’re con­sid­ered delicacies. Har­vested in­sects, it’s of­ten said, have bet­ter di­ets.

The re­sponse to hav­ing in­sects on Jethro Canteen’s menu has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. “Peo­ple tend to ini­tially pick up the crick­ets with ten­ta­tive fingers be­fore they crunch them like pop­corn,” adds Zar­bos. “Eat­ing in­sects is pre­dom­i­nantly a vis­ual hur­dle, but once they get over that nearly ev­ery per­son has en­joyed them.”

So many lead­ing chefs have em­braced nose to tail din­ing that ed­i­ble in­sects are surely the next log­i­cal step. Syd­ney chef Kylie Kwong has pre­vi­ously in­cor­po­rated ed­i­ble in­sects, in­clud­ing roasted meal­worms and de­hy­drated earth­worms, into dishes at her restau­rant Billy Kwong.

Most peo­ple are pre­pared to give in­sects a try, says Matt Stone from Oakridge, in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley. “Though many peo­ple are not go­ing to be eat­ing scor­pi­ons straight away,” he says. “I tried one in Thai­land and you re­ally have to crunch through their hard shell.” What is ap­peal­ing to Stone about us­ing in­sects is that they can be fed on restau­rant scraps. “A year or two ago I was breed­ing in­sects on food waste,” he says. “It’s some­thing that I want to fo­cus on again in the fu­ture.”

Eco­log­i­cal rea­sons aside, for chef Da­mon Amos of De­tour in Bris­bane, taste comes first when putting in­sects on the menu. “I can add in­sects to a dish but if there’s no ben­e­fit to them be­ing there the dish won’t work,” he says. “I sam­pled cock­roaches, worms, ants and crick­ets. I liked the way cock­roaches tasted like toasted al­monds, but there’s no way you can get Queens­lan­ders to eat cock­roaches – they’re as­so­ci­ated with dark, dingy and dirty places.”

Amos’s first dish was lit­er­ally a can of worms. He cur­rently serves gun­pow­der­cured salmon with green curry and black ants. “The ants mimic cit­ric acid and go re­ally well with seafood,” he says.

At a re­cent Noma pop-up in Mex­ico, ac­claimed chef Rene Redzepi served a tostada with poached es­camoles (large ant eggs). He also served green tea ants with a mango dessert at Noma, Syd­ney. Redzepi told The Wash­ing­ton Post re­cently that ants can taste like blue cheese, co­rian­der or lemon.

If you can get past the creepy crawly fac­tor, in­sects are re­ally just a new flavour, says Judith Tre­anor. The Syd­ney­based on­line re­tailer trav­els to South­east Asia reg­u­larly and en­joys a beef dish with red tree ants in Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia. “Food choice comes down to cul­ture and what we are used to,” Tre­anor says. “What may seem strange to some is per­fectly nor­mal to oth­ers.”

For those look­ing to venture into en­to­mophagy, food and cook­ing coach Aimee Clark from the Sun­shine Coast sug­gests try­ing roasted crick­ets.

“That’s the en­try level into in­sect eat­ing,” she says. “I al­ways have a bag of roasted crick­ets in the pantry.”

DIN­NER IS SERVED Roasted crick­ets and meal­worms from Ed­i­ble Bug Shop.

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