In an unlikely piece of foodie news, North Yorkshire’s first community pub – the lovely George and Dragon in Hudswell – is apparently to get some influence from ‘the world’s best restaurant’, Copenhagen’s noma.
Better known for its Sunday roasts and Fijian curries, the pub that’s often featured on the television show The Dales has a new landlord and the Danish influence comes in the shape of a relative who works at the renowned restaurant.
Talking to the Darlington and Stockton Times,new landlord Stuart Miller, a chef with 45 year’s experience, revealed that he will be also assisted by brother Sam, who is currently sous chef at renowned Copenhagen restaurant.
What the reporter didn’t ask was whether the menu was likely to include their famous insect garnish. When noma put on a series of meals in London, the sell out events served up ants. The ants were served on a cabbage leaf drizzled with crème fraiche, and reportedly have a flavour of lemongrass after being anesthetized with cold before being eaten. Also included in the meal was edible soil with radishes buried in hazelnut, malt, rye, beer and butter with a layer of creme fraiche.
More than 20,000 ants were imported for the twenty scheduled meals that sold out in two hours at $306 a seat!
The topic of insect eating has also been looming large on Contributoria, the journalism platform I’m editor of.
Writer Rich McEachran considers our revulsion at the idea in the article I’ve posted below. (Articles on Contributoria are published with a non-commercial share and attribution licence so that blogs such as this can syndicate great pieces like this at no charge).
Can we learn to love eating insects?
By Rich McEachran
© Six Foods: the start-up’s tortilla-style crisps are made with cricket flour
“I am confident that on finding out how good they are, we shall some day right gladly cook and eat them”, said Vincent Holt in his 1885 manifesto Why not eat insects?.
Eating insects is nothing new. Raw or cooked, they’ve long been part of staple diets, especially in South East Asia, China, Africa and Central and South America; crispy fried beetles are a popular street food in Thailand, while ant egg tacos is a popular dish in Mexico, as is roasted larvae served with guacamole.
By 2050, the world population is expected to rise to 9 billion. There are fears that this will lead to an increase in food shortages and world hunger. A report published last year by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations suggested that more people should incorporate insects into their diets. It also encouraged the international community to see insects as a food for the future if it’s serious about improving food security.
Disgust the major hurdle
Two billion people already supplement their diet with insects. But a main hurdle in the west is that people can’t stomach the thought of eating something that they associate with living in the ground. According to Jonathan Fraser, one of the co-founders of Ento (short for entomophagy), a start-up in London that is cooking up sustainable foods using insects, eating is a sensory experience and involves a lot of seeing what’s placed in front of us and not as much thinking about it.
“Most of us are not used to seeing the animal we are about to eat, be it chicken or lamb or other livestock; but traditional ways of serving insects usually present it in its whole form – like grasshopper skewers in Thailand”, he says. “We simply don’t have the cultural heritage of eating insects … Instead the overwhelming preconception is of insects as pests. This underpins our taboo against eating them.”
Disgustologists – including Valerie Curtis, an expert on hygiene and behaviour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – believe our revulsion is partly rooted in human instinct to avoid disease and, ultimately, death. This disgust response is what has led the likes of Susana Soares, a designer and senior lecturer at London South Bank University, to explore the relationship between science and technology and find new ways to consume insects. Her project, Insects au gratin, uses 3D printing to design edible structures made out of dried bug powder – insects are ground down into a fine powder and then mixed with other food products, such as chocolate, spices and cream cheese; the resulting consistency is squeezed through a nozzle and printed into a desired design.
By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice. It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.
As Soares found through her research, it’s not just cultural backgrounds that might be alienating people from dining on insects; it’s the aesthetics of the dishes themselves. How the insects are presented is key to changing our palates, says Laura D’Asaro, co-founder of Six Foods, a Boston-based start-up that is turning bugs into snack foods and tasty treats, including crisps and cookies made with cricket flour.
D’Asaro and her team recognise that the presentation needs to be to insects what hot dogs and nuggets are to pigs and chickens.
“We actually started by cooking up insects whole and quickly discovered that although the insects tasted good, our friends were hesitant to try to say the least.”
D’Asaro continues: “The individual [ingredients] that go into these food products may cause a visceral feeling of disgust, but when they are presented in a form that is familiar and delicious, Americans welcome the foods into their diet … Adding insects to something familiar like chips makes insects accessible, and people have been remarkably open and excited to try our Chirps (author’s note: Six Foods’ range of tortilla-style crisps).”
Curing caterpillars like bacon
The start-up recently raised more than $70,000 through Kickstarter with the help of nearly 1,300 backers. The success of the crowdfunding campaign shows the potential to win people over and educate them on insects’ nutritional value.
Ento has taken a similar approach to cooking with insects. Recipe experiments include cured honeycomb caterpillars, using a similar process to curing bacon. The mission is to open a restaurant and get insect ready meals on supermarket shelves.
“We fundamentally believe in being honest about what ingredients we use, but we also believe the best way for consumers to accept insects as food is to serve dishes where the insects are not visible”, says Fraser. “We combine insects with complementary ingredients, and present them in abstracted formats (such as pâté and croquettes), to make foods that are delicious and familiar to UK eaters.”
Efficient conversion into protein
Start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may have a hard time converting everyone, but the potential environmental benefits are intriguing. As Holt pointed out in his manifesto, “insects are all vegetable feeders, clean, palatable, wholesome, and decidedly more particular in their feeding than ourselves”. Insects are tremendously efficient at converting vegetation into edible protein. They are cold-blooded so don’t have to waste energy keeping their bodies warm.
“They are a source of animal protein like any other livestock. And they have numerous advantages over the animals we currently farm and eat. Take grasshoppers, for example, and compare them with beef cattle; you can get nine times as much meat for the same amount of food, due to their higher feed-conversion efficiency”, explains Fraser.
Insects also use less land and water than traditional livestock.
“It takes two thousand gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but it only takes about one gallon of water to produce a pound of crickets”, D’Asaro adds.
The positive impact insects can have on the environment doesn’t end there. They emit around 1% of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by cows and, unlike factory farming, insects can be “raised humanely in small spaces, without antibiotics or growth hormones”. This means that insects require very little upkeep.
A note of caution
With the possibility of being able to raise 1,000 crickets in a space of 1 sq ft, insects are both a cheaper and more efficient source of protein than a lot of meat and far more sustainable. Insects can boost the environment as well as diets. Still, there is reason to be cautious. Investment in insect farming in Africa is increasing, and there are concerns that if demand for insects grows then producers may be tempted to cut corners to keep costs low. Before this can even be a worry, entomophagy needs to be brought into the mainstream.
“Eating insects can be a quirk, a niche market”, says Josephine, a regular diner at an upscale restaurant in New York that has put them on the menu. “Diners come because they are intrigued. A lot will most likely try it once and then their interest will fade. They see insects as a novelty, rather than a nutritious lifestyle choice. We should be asking ourselves how we can get more people eating them and how we can make them more accessible, not simply why aren’t we eating them?”
If operations can be scaled up technologically and financially, start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may just help us learn to love eating insects.
“By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice,” says Fraser. “It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.”