Trend Tracking: Eating Insects

by Meredith Lanoue on November 27, 2013

One trend we’ve been reading a lot about recently is entomophagy—eating insects. Entomophagy is common in many Eastern cultures, but, according to a wave of food innovators offering products ranging from kitchen-scale insect incubators (also here) to energy bars containing insect meal (here), it remains an untapped culinary resource in the West. Insect promoters cite exciting benefits of feasting on bugs: insects can provide high-quality protein that is high in minerals but low in saturated fat.  On a large scale, entomophagy can increase the resiliency and sustainability of our food supply by using less water, land and feed inputs than other animal production industries.

But in order for insect-based foods to be a viable food choice, they need to please the palates of consumers and be presented in a way that overcomes our aversion to eating these organisms. One company in the UK started by a team of design students has a plan to do just that. After preliminary research introduced Ento’s founding team to the potential for insects to feed humanity more sustainably, they confirmed the viability of this foreign and largely taboo organism at an exotic restaurant in London.  In the eatery’s grasshopper salad—a plate of leafy greens topped with crisply fried grasshoppers, fully in tact and in complete arthropodic form—the team discovered that this unique and unfamiliar culinary creation actually tasted good. Eating insects could work.

Ento is taking a holistic approach to move Western consumers to embrace insect-based food by being strategic in selecting the rightorganisms, refining recipes, leveraging existing infrastructure for production and processing, and being very deliberate in designing product packaging and marketing campaigns to shift food preferences that will expand Western palates.

Ento targets organisms such as grasshoppers and crickets that do not carry the negative connotations of household pests such as houseflies. These organisms are also already farmed as food for reptiles, and Ento is working with these farmers to develop the insects’ flavor profiles through experimentation with diet. In addition, Ento is collaborating with chefs of insect cuisine at the Nordic Food Laboratory, and developing their own insect-based recipes to test on customers through a catering business.

The objective of Ento is not to displace existing meat sources but to diversify the Western diet with insect-based food options. For Ento, success is defined as the point where insects can be purchased in a mainstream supermarket, and Western eaters can access these new unchartered tastes.

Reading about the tastiness and culinary pleasures of insect-eating got me curious about the experience.  Does this industry really have what it takes to transform our food system?

Of all places where one could expect to find insects on a menu, New York City is emphatically lacking in options. After a failed attempt to indulge in grasshopper tacos at a local taqueria (apparently the delicacy is only served at their Upper-East and West-side locations), I attended an insect tasting event at the Queens public library on a recent Saturday afternoon. Joining a group of eager children and their parents, I watched a local farmer’s presentation about the benefits of eating insects and then stepped in line to sample the array of specimens laid out.  The verdict? As with all food, preparation is key and the freeze-dried delicacies left much to be desired. The chocolate covered worms were delicious but the twiggy grasshoppers were a bit spindly—and would have been much better suited in a flour that could be used in baked goods or nutritional bars.

The bottom line is that entomophagy presents a significant opportunity and the food scene is well-poised to embrace this “new” way of eating.  The current level of innovation and unprecedented cross-pollination between cuisines, techniques and traditions has increased diners’ receptiveness to new foods and culinary arts. As globalization is expanding palates, preferences for healthier foods and more transparency in food sourcing are growing, along with awareness about the impacts of food choices.  Today’s food environment is ripe for entomophagy to take hold.



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