Yep, You’re Eating Bugs

It never fails. Whenever I talk to school children about entomophagy, a kid or two will blurt out something along the lines of: “No way. I’m never going to eat a bug. That’s so gross.”

And that’s when I break the news.

Even if you’ve never intentionally snacked on a scorpion, you’ve eaten bugs. For real.

Insects, insect parts, and insect eggs are in most of our foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has laws that regulate the number of insects, insect parts, or eggs that are allowed in foods. The agency’s Food Defect Levels Handbook explains that there are maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard. It goes on to list thousands of foods and the allowable “defects” in them. Sometimes the defect is mold or rodent hairs. Often, though, the defect is insects and insect parts.

Ever eat a PB&J sandwich? Did you know four tablespoons of peanut butter can legally contain up to 17 insects or insect parts. A cup of chocolate can contain up to 60 aphids, thrips, or mites. A cup of canned fruit juice can contain up to 5 fly eggs or 1 maggot.

Think you’ll just eat pizza and avoid all the insects? Ha. The flour used to make the crust can contain up to 150 insect fragments per cup. Pizza sauce can contain 15 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots per cup. And a half cup of canned or dried mushrooms can have an average of 10 maggots of any size.

By now, these No-Way-No-How kids are often staring into space. And that’s when I tell them the good news: They’ve been eating these foods for years and they’re still alive. They’re healthy and thriving and they didn’t even know they were eating it. (And this is when I give a plug for adding cricket powder to sauces and baked goods, because you really can’t taste it and it’s good for you and good for the planet.)

So, you can continue to say you’re not going to eat insects. Or, you can face the facts and admit – you’re already an entomophage.

Can’t Beat the Beetle

When it comes to eating insects, I’m primarily a cricket and mealworm kind of woman. They’re packed with protein and they’re easy to find in the United States. Best of all – at least for those of us just dipping our toes into entomophagy – they’re manageable. They can be eaten in just a bite or two.

Ah, but research for this nonfiction project requires that I try insects that are more exotic, more unusual, and bigger. So, I ordered a package of June Beetles from Thailand Unique – and, boy are they BIG.

Worldwide, beetles are the most commonly eaten insects. June Beetles (scientific name Melolonthinae) are part of the scarab beetle family. They have heavy black bodies that measure up more than inch (25mm) in length. They’re often eaten with their heads and wings removed. June beetles contain over 56 percent protein and have very low fat content.

You can snack on these bad boys like they’re super crunch potato chips. More often, though people add them to soups or pasta dishes. They’re often stir-fried with vegetables or tossed into a salad. Or, because of their visual impact, they sometimes served atop a tart or other pastry.

On this, my first June Beetle encounter, I decided to whip up an hors d’oeuvre. I added a few drops of hot sauce to cream cheese and piped that mixture onto rice crackers. I topped each cracker with a big, shiny, imposing beetle.

At first sight, my taste testers were a little intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand. They bravely ate on, noting that the crunchiness of the beetle paired nicely with the cream cheese and delicate crackers. The beetle didn’t have an overpowering flavor, but it was a little salty – likely seasoning added during processing.

I’m not sure I’ll rush out and order many more of these beetles. For now, U.S. farmers are prohibited from raising them, so they do have to be ordered from outside the country. I am glad, however, to have tasted them.

Now, bring on the next bug!

Ento-Muffins

My family is headed to a soccer tournament this weekend, which means lots of hours spent hanging out between games and trying to snack our teenage player the right foods at the right times. After more than a decade of competitive soccer, he’s pretty good at knowing what and when he wants to eat. Among his favorite pre-game snacks? Chocolate chip muffins.

I make these a lot and they’re always a hit. I generally make them as mini muffins because they’re easier to eat in the car.

This time, though, I decided to experiment with the recipe by adding a little cricket powder to the mixture. I’m not fooling myself. These still aren’t “health food.” But they’re definitely healthier than they were before.

Cricket flour, also known as cricket protein powder, is made from 100 percent ground crickets. To make this flour, the crickets are roasted and then milled. When baking with cricket flour, you can’t just wholesale substitute cricket flour for all-purpose flour. Gluten helps dough rise and lends shape and a chewy texture to baked goods. Crickets don’t have any gluten. When baking, the general rule of thumb is that you can use cricket protein to replace one-fourth to one-third of the flour called for in a recipe. Because these muffins are so light — both in color and texture — I went with a low ratio of cricket powder. The original recipe called for two cups of flour; I replaced just one-fourth of a cup with cricket powder. I’ve purchased cricket flour from multiple sources. The product used in this recipe came from Oregon-based Cricket Flours.

The result is a fluffy, perfectly sweet muffin. It’s so close to the original that my family gobbled them up without a second thought. Remember: When trying to incorporate cricket protein into your diet, sometimes baby steps are the way to go.

This basic muffin recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking. I had leftover cream in the fridge, so I used a mix of cream and milk. The flexible amount of butter or oil allows you to control the richness of the muffins. I, of course, opted to use the full eight tablespoons. I also added chocolate chips – my family’s favorite.

Ento-Muffins

1 ¾ cups all-purpose baking flour

¼ cup cricket powder

1 tablespoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk or cream

2/3 cup granulated sugar

4 to 8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 to 1-1/2 cups of fresh, frozen, or dried berries or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cricket powder, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk/cream, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and mix together just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Stir in chocolate chips, berries, or other add-in.

Divide the batter among muffin cups. Makes 12 full-size muffins (bake 12-15 minutes) or 24 mini muffins (bake 8 to 10 minutes).

Holy Frass!

I grew up on a farm, so I’m well versed in the virtues of manure. Heck, I now live in a city that produces fertilizer made from biosolids (yes, that’s a nice way of saying treated sewage).

Still, the idea of Cricket frass as fertilizer was new to me.

Cricket frass is a byproduct of the cricket protein industry. The organic material contains cricket feces, shed exoskeletons, and waste feed. It takes six weeks to raise crickets to maturity. During their life cycle their shed their exoskeletons eight to 10 times. Chitin is a naturally occurring substance found in those exoskeletons and it’s believed to help jumpstart a plant’s immune system.

Crickets produce a lot of frass. In fact, most farmers find they can harvest frass equal to half their cricket production by weight. For example, if a farm produces 500 pounds (227 kg) of crickets per month, about 250 pounds (113 kg) of frass is also being produced. The added revenue from selling that poo can make a real difference – cricket frass retails for upward of $10 per pound.

There isn’t a lot of scholarly research on the benefits of cricket frass. In 2017, University of Vermont Extension conducted field trials to determine the potential nitrogen fertility value of cricket frass. The experiments found that cricket frass can be an effective Nitrogen amendment and increased sweet corn yield when compared to the control. Mealworm frass is most often referred to as mealworm castings. Casting is the term that has been used to describe earthworm manure, a product that has long been used as a dry fertilizer or to make a nutrient tea.

So, while researchers continue to analyze and test, I decided to try out some frass myself. I ordered mine from Frass Forward, but there are lots of options out there. If you live near an insect farm, chances are they’ll sell you some.

It’s not exactly planting season in the Pacific Northwest, but I wanted to replant the pot on my front porch. Before tucking some primroses into the soil, I mixed in some frass. I’ll report back on whether I detect any noticeable effect on these flowers.

Updated Charcuterie

I love charcuterie. At holiday parties. At office parties. At football-viewing parties. It’s like a mini buffet of tasty goodness.

Watch any Foot Network show and they’ll talk about the foods that typically go on a charcuterie board. They’ll encourage you to artfully arrange a variety cured meats, cheese, olives, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, jelly, or jam.

There are no rules with charcuterie… which is why I decided to add roasted crickets from Cricket Flours to my last board. It was a first for me, so I didn’t go nuts and sprinkle them all over the place … just added a simple ramekin full of crickets to the board. And I didn’t say anything. I just let my guests discover them on their own.

As with most new things, the crickets elicited mixed reviews. Many guests wouldn’t even try them. Of those who bravely sampled the crickets, some complained about the legs and antennae that not caught in their teeth. Others said they liked the crunch and flavor. A few turned for second and third helpings of crickets.

I’m not certain I’ll include crickets on every charcuterie board, but it truly was a fun way to shake things up. And, it got a few people to step outside their comfort zone … I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing.

Pumpkin with a Cricket Twist

I don’t mind cold weather. Actually, I don’t love the cold, but I love what goes with it: cozy sweaters, nights by the fire, college football Saturdays, and pumpkin everything.

I’m not a pumpkin latte-drinker, but I am a devoted pumpkin bread-eater. I like my pumpkin bread moist, slightly sweet, and I love a crunchy topping or stir-in. This bread recipe fits the bill – plus, I’ve given it a boost of protein by subbing cricket flour for some of the all-purpose flour in the original recipe. What a great treat on a chilly autumn day!

Pumpkin Bread with a Protein Punch

15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup cricket flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour or liberally spray with nonstick baking spray two loaf pans. In large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, water, vanilla, and sugar; mix with electric mixer until well blended. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin spice. Mix just until blended. Divide batter between two prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

* This bread is great topped with chopped nuts or shelled, roasted pumpkin seeds, or roasted crickets. Or, you may decide to stir chocolate chips, nuts, crickets, or dried fruit into the batter. Get creative!

Crickets – Sushi 2.0?

Fifty years ago, most Americans hadn’t even heard of sushi. In the 1970s, this was a country content with eating pot roast, fried chicken, and Hamburger Helper. Raw fish and seaweed? Well, you might as well have asked these poor people to eat crickets and grasshoppers.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It didn’t matter to these bell-bottom-wearing, super groovy, non-sushi eating Americans that more than 100 million people around the world were eating it. Sushi was different. Too different.

So, some really creative chefs started brainstorming ways they could get diners to try this cuisine. They started by making rolls featuring foods with which Americans were familiar. The California roll, made with cucumber, crab meat, avocado and rice, was a good first step for those daring enough to try sushi. Hmmm. Not bad.

Before long, Americans began sampling rolls made with eel, tuna and squid. Today, there are about 4,000 sushi restaurants located across the United States.

Could that same thing happen with edible insects? I think so.

But it’s not enough to tell Americans that 2 billion people around the world eat insects. As with sushi, entomophagy-minded entrepreneurs and chefs are going to have to start small. Get diners to try cookies or pizza dough made with cricket powder. With a little coaxing and some solid information about sustainability, they may step up to granola with mealworms or tacos made with grasshoppers. Eventually people will begin to think of insects as tasty nourishment and the ick-factor will disappear.

And who knows, maybe 50 years from now, grocery stores will stock cricket flour right next to the wheat flour and almond flour and cricket-centric restaurants will be commonplace.

Stranger things have happened.

Melt-in-your-Mouth Biscuits – with a bit of Cricket Protein

       Fact: Buttermilk biscuits are flaky and delicious

       Fact: Buttermilk biscuits with cheddar are flaky and even more delicious

       Fact: These buttermilk biscuits with cheddar are flaky, delicious and, thanks to the addition of a little cricket flour, higher in protein than your average buttery bread.

       No, a quarter-cup of cricket flour doesn’t magically make these biscuits “healthy” – just slightly “healthier.” And, for some foods, that’s more than enough. Eat them with soup, pot roast, gumbo, chef’s salad, or grilled halibut. These melt-in-your mouth cheddar biscuits makealmost any meal better, whether you’re planning a fancy cloth-napkin affair or a casual picnic in the park.  

       These biscuits are so yummy, you probably won’t have leftovers. But, if you do, you can store them in an airtight container in a refrigerator or at room temperature.

Cheddar Cricket Flour Biscuits

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup cricket flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped fine

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For Topping:

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped fine

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, garlic powder, salt, paprika, and chopped parsley. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and butter. Pour buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until just moist, being careful not to overmix. Gently fold in cheddar cheese. Using a large spoon or ¼-cup measuring cup, scoop the batter evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. While biscuits are baking, whisk together topping ingredients in a small bowl. When biscuits are done baking, brush their tops with the butter mixture. Serve while warm.

Trying Entomophagy – One Sweet Bite at a Time

October 1 is National Homemade Cookie Day and, if there’s just one national food day or month I can get fully behind, this is the one. I have nothing against store-bought, cream-filled sandwich cookies, but there something special about being able to pack treats I’ve made myself into my family’s lunches.

There’s even something more special about these cookies. That’s because these cookies contain cricket flour. You read that right. Cricket flour is made by milling crickets. This super fine powder is combined with flour and results in a product that’s higher in protein, nutrients and amino acids than your run-of-the-mill flour. The half-cup of cricket flour used in this recipe, adds 12 grams of protein to the cookies. By contrast, a half cup of all-purpose flour contains just 6 grams of protein.

The first time I baked a batch of these cookies, they were still cooling when my teenage son rushed into the house and grabbed a handful for his tennis teammates. I thought about saying something, but I didn’t. Later that night, when I asked if his friends liked the treat, he said, “They were awesome. Everybody loved them – as usual.”

It’s thought that more than 2 billion people in 113 countries are incorporating insects into their everyday diets. Eating cookies made with a bit of cricket flour isn’t going to change the way Americans think about munching on meal worms or dining on dung bugs – at least not overnight. But, it may be the sort of thing it takes to get folks to take a bite and open their minds to entomophagy … one cookie at a time.

 Chocolate Chirpers

1 cup butter softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup cricket flour

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, using an electric mixer or wooden spoon, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, soda and salt and continue to mix. Gradually add both the cricket and all-purpose flour. When dough is well mixed, stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoon onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire baking rack. Makes about two dozen medium-sized cookies. Enjoy!

Bug-ana Bread

Baking with cricket flour has been an ongoing experiment for me. Some results have been less than optimal, others have been absolutely delicious. I’m proud to say that this recipe is one of the yummy successes.

I started this particular baking adventure with a recipe I’ve used many times before. I subbed cricket flour for one-third of the flour called for. Once again I used flour purchased from the fine folks at Portland, Oregon,-based Cricket Flours. The final product is moist, flavorful – and contains 50 grams more protein than if I’d only used wheat flour. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

Bugana Bread

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cricket flour

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ cup butter

½ cup sour cream

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup mashed bananas

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. When combined, add bananas and sour cream. Mix on high speed for one minute. In a separate bowl, sift together flours, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix until well blended. If using nuts, add and mix well. Pour batter into large greased loaf pan (approx. 9 x 5 x 3 inches). Bake for one hour or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let bread cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then remove banana bread from the pan and let cool completely before serving.