By Ishka Bless, Soapbox Science speaker, PhD Candidate, School of Agriculture, Food & Wine, The University of Adelaide
“Food is not just what we put in our mouths to fill up; it is culture and identity. Reason plays some role in our decisions about food, but it’s rarely driving the car.” -Jonothan Safran Foer
The practice of eating insects, often referred to as ‘entomophagy’, isn’t new. From larvae to locusts and caterpillars, archaeological findings suggest that insects have played an important role in human diets from early hominids (the Great Apes) to the present day. While bugs aren’t common for breakfast in Australia, they remain a part of everyday diet for millions of people worldwide! This is good news, because insects are good for us, good for the planet and if you take the time to get familiar with insect cuisine (Chef Joseph Yoon has some top tips) – they are tasty too!
So, why aren’t we eating insects? Well, it mostly comes down to culture. What we choose to eat is closely related to what we see eaten – what is cooked and eaten within our home, what we see others eat and what is available. These experiences define what we consider to be food, influence our preferences and food behaviours and teach us how to prepare and enjoy different ingredients. This is closely linked with tradition, family and identity; so…food is more than just fuel! In Australia, entomophagy has been practised for thousands of years by many First Nations Peoples communities. However, most of our population currently lack experience with insects in the context of food. In fact, they are more often remembered as a nuisance and source of contamination (thanks Mortein and Louie the Fly!). It therefore comes as no surprise that when faced with the idea of eating insects, many feel a sense of disgust and relate insects with negative qualities….gooey, chewy and (as many have often said to me) tastes like ‘insect’ (whatever that may be - I don’t think it’s a compliment!).
How do we turn back the clock on our relationship with insects as food? We need to get familiar with them as an ingredient. Rather than “Louie the Fly, straight from rubbish tip to you” think “Louie the Fly, fresh from the farm and tasty too”. It turns out non-insect eaters have been missing out – edible insects have culinary flair! Depending on farming method, species and how you cook them, they have a range of flavours (from fruit candy to roast chicken) and textures (from crunchy to chewy). By stepping out of our comfort zone and exploring these qualities, we can start to develop a relationship with insects as food. I would recommend starting small, choosing an insect with flavours and textures that you enjoy, and following a recipe (this is a great place to start!). If the idea of eating insects gives you butterflies or makes you feel a little antsy (puns intended), you can also opt to start with an insect powder or flour, rather than whole.
I will be talking about the flavours of edible insects as a part of my Soapbox Science talk. So, if you are curious to learn more about what’s available before hopping in the kitchen, I encourage you to come and have a chat. I’ll also be digging into why we are exploring insects as an alternative protein source and the science behind how we taste. Bug Appétit!