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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bug Cuisine: How Tasty Are Insects?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Bay Area entomophagist Daniella Martin tucks into a scorpion - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY SANDIE
  • Photo by Kimberly Sandie
  • Bay Area entomophagist Daniella Martin tucks into a scorpion

In this week's cover story, "Bug Me," SF Weekly takes a look at the new generation of entomophagists, or insect-eaters, who are based in and around San Francisco. Much has been made in the press of entomophagists' sometimes extravagant claims about the ecological benefits of insects as a protein source for human consumption.

These claims are backed by logical arguments and are worth considering, and we devoted ample space in the story to examining them. But we were also interested in a more immediate question: Are bugs delicious?

To evaluate this proposition, your correspondent -- a crime reporter who has dabbled in food-trend stories -- spent time with Daniella Martin and Mónica Martínez, two Bay Area entomophagists. Martin writes about insect cuisine for the Huffington Post and runs a website, girlmeetsbug.com. Martínez, a designer by training, is preparing to launch a food cart, Don Bugito, that will serve insect dishes exclusively.

We sampled wax-moth larvae tacos with Martínez, and various hors d'oeuvres made with wax-moth larvae, crickets, grasshoppers, bee larvae, scorpions, and stink-bugs with Martin. A few thoughts:

The wax-moth larvae, in preparations from both Martin and Martínez, were by far the least offensive to the palate. Martin served them on a canapé with diced oyster mushrooms and crème fraîche. The worms and mushrooms, fried together in butter, took on an almost indistinguishable color, texture and taste -- essentially sauteed mushrooms beefed up (so to speak) with an imperceptible protein source. For Martínez' wax-worm tacos, the larvae were fried crisp, taking on a caramel sheen and roasted flavor similar to chicharrón.

The adult insects -- crickets, scorpions, and the like -- were a different story. Here's how we described them:

The animals' exoskeleton lends an unavoidable crunch to the dishes in which they are incorporated, reminding eaters, bite by bite, of what's in their mouths. But the texture is less jarring than the atypical flavor of the bugs' carapaces, which is not immediately appealing to the unaccustomed palate.



The exoskeletons have an iodine aftertaste redolent of the naturalist's laboratory. Yet when combined with other familiar flavors -- Martin serves up a grasshopper on a slice of apple drizzled with honey -- the taste of any bug recedes into the background. Like shrimp, crabs, and lobsters, insects impart a flavor that is mild and easily combined with other ingredients.

In short, they're not so bad. But that aftertaste, a film in the mouth that seemed to thicken over the course of several bug appetizers, is not something we'll be craving again in the near future.

None of this is to detract from the ingenuity with which Martin and Martínez present their dishes. And the bug smorgasbord offered by Martin held one interesting surprise: A green stink bug that had almost exactly the appearance, taste, and flavor of baked kale. It goes to show that with more than 1,500 species of edible insects out there, this particularly culinary frontier is far from exhausted.

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Peter Jamison

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