Niki Bezzant: Wormicelli, anyone?

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Eating creepy crawlies is good for you and the planet. Photo / Richard Robinson
Eating creepy crawlies is good for you and the planet. Photo / Richard Robinson

How do you feel about eating bugs? Fancy cricket pasta in a tasty sauce - a bit of "buglonaise"?

Or how about crunchy barbecue-flavoured mealworms with that after-work drink?

As far-fetched as that sounds, insects could easily be part of our food future. In fact, it's happening now.

In the past month I have tried two edible insect products: cricket pasta and cricket flour. Crickets seem to be the "gateway bug" - an accessible route to the more challenging worms and grubs. Crickets are easy to farm, apparently, and they have potential as a protein source of the future.

This was identified by the United Nations in 2013, when it published a report on edible insects.

The UN suggested insects could be a solution to feeding the world's expanding population in a more sustainable way: insects' feed conversion rate is fairly high, they emit fewer greenhouse gases than livestock, and they require much less water.

They also have the potential to lower the cost of food.

Are bugs nutritious? In a word, yes. According to another UN report, gram for gram, insects often contain more protein and minerals than meat.

Cricket flour, which is really just roasted and ground crickets, contains 68 per cent protein, which is a lot higher than any other type of flour, and also higher than chicken, fish or beef.

However, you'd be unlikely to eat similar portions of each, so we need to keep that in context.

Crickets are also high in vitamin B12, and a tablespoon of cricket flour gives us close to the recommended daily amount. Cricket pasta is higher in protein and B12 than regular pasta and also contains omega-3.

Taste-wise, the cricket products are quite interesting.

Being crustaceans, crickets do have a slightly shellfishy, prawn-shell flavour, which took me a little by surprise.

Things made with the flour tend to reflect this flavour, too, although it is quite easily masked by other flavours, even in sweet baking.

The flour is not a direct replacement for other flours. It's best used in small amounts to boost protein, as you might use ground nuts.

This make it more cost-effective, too as at present it is priced at the premium end of the scale.

Given all that, what if the idea of eating bugs is just too creepy?

I only managed to get about half of my office-mates to give the crispy mealworms a go; bugs are a step too far for some. But the UN reckons we need to get over this; it's just a cultural thing.

"The negative impressions associated with certain foods can be overcome," they say.

"For example, consumers discovered that certain cheeses with a strong taste and odour were in fact very palatable.

"Similarly, the eating of live animals (oysters) and raw flesh (sushi) has become commonplace." They say renaming formerly gross-out foods can be helpful here.

So there's our challenge.

Get over being disgusted by creepy-crawlies, and get into them for dinner.

- Herald on Sunday

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