Foodies, be advised: the entrées of tomorrow might have a few more legs and spines than you were expecting.
In a Buzz Bin post last summer, I included insects on a list of “formerly vilified” foods, noting how they were slowly starting to crawl their way toward acceptability – at least for early adopters – in Western food culture. Well, in the past 12 months, some of those critters have picked up the pace and are now downright hopping and flying onto ingredient lists of experimental products at natural food stores. In particular, crickets.
Freeze-dried and ground into indistinguishable “flour,” crickets are adding protein to energy bars marketed by Exo, Chapul and Bitty Foods, among others. (When you Google “cricket flour,” currently more than 672,000 results pop up!) The thought is that the homogenized particles will hide well amongst other familiar, palatable ingredients and lend sustenance without adding any unusual flavor or texture, thereby increasing acceptance and adoption. For these very new kinds of snacks, however, there remains an age-old culinary challenge: are they actually yummy?
A recent NPR story observed that:
“Policymakers and the media have assumed that Westerners are disgusted by bugs because we associate them with contamination and disease. So the focus has been on trying to convert the uninitiated by making an environmental case for insect cuisine, and by noting that 2 billion people in around 100 countries (like Thailand) already enjoy many different insects in a range of dishes… Instead… we should think less about combating disgust and more about appealing to taste.”
A very good reminder about food marketing: even those of us who are curious and savvy don’t robotically eat bowls of antioxidants (or fill in the blank with another good-for-you substance). We eat FOOD, and that is foremost about a magical combination of pleasurable flavors, textures and aromas. So far, it seems, the cricket flour evangelists are still working on formulating products that are as crave-worthy as they are Earth-friendly. I’m very curious to see where they go, though, and I’d totally try one of those bars after another year or two of tweaking the recipe.
On a related note, but not quite –
We all need to start eating more jellyfish and lionfish.
These two sea creatures have not historically been on the Western list of popular comestibles, but if we want to keep ourselves from being overrun by aquatic alien overlords, apparently we need to sauté and serve them with abandon.
Jellyfish populations in the ocean are exploding, causing not just annoying stings for swimmers but also industrial and commercial problems. Can you even fathom a colony of the squishy beasts 1,000 miles long? Some practical food thinkers have suggested that we wage a “culinary war” by eating the invading enemy. I, for one, am super-squeamish about the purported chewy texture of these protein bags. Lots of clever cooking technique will be needed yet before I perceive jellyfish to be not just utilitarian but actually mouthwatering.
On the other hand, I hear that lionfish – invasive Indo-Pacific predators that have thrived alarmingly in the Atlantic and Caribbean and killed off many native species – are actually quite tasty when filleted from their spiny carcasses. There are campaigns and cookbooks afoot to encourage more chefs and diners to defeat this unwanted fish by serving it blackened with a slice of lemon.
How game are you to try this new gangly gastronomy?
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