Creepy crawly superfood we 'should be eating'

By Benedict Brook

In your everyday diet you get about a quarter of a kilo of insects every year. Photo / Getty
In your everyday diet you get about a quarter of a kilo of insects every year. Photo / Getty

We're eating them every day and we have no idea we're doing it.

The colonel has his secret recipe and MSG has long been a secret flavour enhancer.

But there's something altogether more surprising we're happily, and obliviously, chowing down on.

Insects. That's right, many legged, multiple eyed creepy-crawlies.

"Everybody's tried insects before and if you're vegetarian or vegan you've actually tried more insects than most people," food scientist Skye Blackburn says.

"In your everyday diet you get about a quarter of a kilo of insects every year.

The bugs you eat without realising

Did you know you ingest a portion of insects with certain foods? Image / NZ Herald
Did you know you ingest a portion of insects with certain foods? Image / NZ Herald

"In things like flour you're getting 250 insect parts per 100g, orange juice five flies or maggots per 100mL, if you're eating frozen broccoli you're eating about 50 whole aphids per 100g," she tells news.com.au.

"But it's all milled so you don't notice it."

And even if you avoid juice and flour you're still ingesting insects.

"We eat bugs in our sleep, they crawl into our mouth and we just swallow them naturally."

Is the solution to avoid processed foods? Or toughen up our food regulations? No, says Ms Blackburn. We simply need to embrace the insect as a foodstuff.

"From a young age it's drilled into our heads - don't stick that worm in your nose or that snail in your ear - which is fine but that ingrains in our brain bugs are gross or dirty or disgusting, which isn't the fact."

Break the gross barrier

Ms Blackburn is an entomologist - or insect scientist - and owner of the Edible Bug Shop who's products include snack pots of crickets and a unique trail mix with almonds, cranberries and, of course, mealworms.

"I have a four year old daughter and eating bugs is completely normal for her," she tells me.

"Once you get over that initial ick factor and you put a whole bug in your mouth the first time, you break the barrier that it's gross."

When I join Ms Blackburn, at the AnnanROMA food and wine festival at Sydney's Mt Annan Australian Botanic Garden, she's whipping up a zingy basil, pine nut and ant pesto, and a spicy chilli, garlic and whole cricket stir fry.

The slightly bemused audience, your intrepid reporter included, were later implored to try the bug filled meals. More of which later.

Good things in small packages

Insect fanciers abound, says Ms Blackburn. John the Baptist was "an avid bug eater," and he's not the only one.

Rapper NAS recently invested in US start up Exo, a company that makes protein bars with the added touch of crushed up crickets.

"In the long term, we envision cricket powder being competitive with soy, and whey, and any other protein source," Exo co-founder Greg Sewitz told Bloomberg. "That starts with introducing cricket protein to a consumer base with no direct experience with it and a lot of preconceived ideas that were negative."

Ms Blackburn agrees that crickets are a good start in the world of insect eating, particularly cricket powder.

"That's why we have powder, for people who want all the health and nutritional aspects of eating the cricket without having to look at the whole bug."

Crickets are a superfood, she says. While chicken is only 23 per cent protein, crickets are up to 65 per cent. They are full of zinc, magnesium, manganese, potassium and a 20g serve provides half your daily recommended intake of calcium and iron.

Ants are less about protein but full to the brim of amino acids.

"You're getting all these really good things in a really small package," says Ms Blackburn.

Strawberry flavour

Eco wise, bugs stack up too. For 200g of beef, you need 4000L of water. But to create the same amount of cricket protein you need only under 1mL of water, says Ms Blackburn.

And then, of course, there's the flavour to savour.

"Crickets have a really mild nutty flavour. Mealworm has a nutty flavour as well but if a cricket is like an almond a mealworm is more like a walnut," says Ms Blackburn.

"Ants have a really strong citrusy flavour but you can also get ants with a Vegemite-y or a lemony flavour or even a strawberry flavour so you can try them in a lot of different dishes."

"You can feel the legs"

The bug banquet is ready. The verdant green pesto is flecked with what looks like black peppercorns. In fact they are the crushed bodies of ants - some legs lie detached close by in a pool of extra virgin.

In another bowel, the glossy brown bodies of the crickets - all legs, wings and oily eyes - are intact and stare up at you, some from beneath the shade of a coriander leaf.

The aromas waft of this insect indulgence waft over the gardens as trepidations onlookers take a tentative bite.

Tim McDevitt, who is with his daughter Alice, is game for a spoon of cricket stir fry.

"It has a crunchy texture to it," he said. "But I'm not focusing on that mental image of eating a cricket."

Alice, with some reservation, finally takes a bite. "They don't taste like anything, but I can't look at it."

Kylie Stewart from Marrickville said the crickets were nutty, "but you can feel the legs so I'm not sure if I'd eat it again."

"Big ball of snot"

Do any foods freak Ms Blackburn out? Absolutely. She can't stand the food many of us consider a delicacy.

"What I think is really gross is oysters. It's a big ball of snot basically.

"I'd much rather eat bugs than an oyster."

For me, the hardest part was putting something that looks like it could spring to life at any moment in your mouth.

Once, you crunch down though, the crickets simply become a dry, nutty snack.

I even went back for seconds.

- news.com.au

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