This Is What Eating Bugs Is Like
I’m a firm believer in the saying don’t knock it till you try it—meaning I’ll eat anything (and I mean anything) at least once. In Peru, I cracked open a guinea pig skull and sucked out its brains (not bad, kind of tasted like a soft-boiled egg). In Barcelona, I gnawed on some cartilage-y, furry pig ears (not my fave TBH!). And right here at home, my go-to snack is sauerkraut—best eaten by the jarful. To put it simply, I’m an equal opportunity foodie. Nothing is off the table. Literally.
With all that in mind, I’ve always known that someday I would end up eating a bug. That’s not to say that the idea of noshing on insect whets my appetite. It very much doesn’t. In fact, I’m actually pretty afraid of bugs (grasshoppers especially), but bugs are an extremely sustainable food source that are consumed (on purpose) all around the world. In countries like Mexico and Thailand, those grasshoppers I fear have long been considered delicacies. Even parts of Australia are starting to get onboard with bugs in an effort to be more eco-friendly. We should also definitely start eating them, and I’m convinced that we will within the next decade or so.
Before you say, ew, no I’m never eating bugs, consider a couple things: Insects are extremely sustainable. According to a report from the Food And Agriculture Administration, they require less land, time, and energy to produce than livestock, have nearly as much protein as beef, and many entomologists point to them as a viable solution to the hunger crisis plaguing our growing global population.
In a 2011 New Yorker article, Dana Goodyear—a James Beard award winning food writer—also points out that “bugs like teeming and thrive in filthy, crowded conditions,” the same conditions that aren’t suitable for raising animal livestock. Basically, they’re all around easier to produce and extremely nutritious, and there are no questionable ethics involved in raising them—AKA no guilt. It’s a win-win.
Still don’t think we’ll ever actually truly eat bugs? Think of sushi. Like bugs, sushi and raw fish are things that are widely accepted and actively eaten in other parts of the world. Goodyear writes that just 20 years ago, you would have never seen sushi in the supermarket. Now it’s all the rage. If Americans were able to embrace raw fish as they have, there’s no reason to believe they shouldn’t also be able to get onboard with insects.
And we actually already kind of have started embracing bugs. Many health food stores now sell cricket flour. As I said, crickets are good sustainable source of protein, and the fact that they’re all ground up into an indiscernible powder makes them easier to use—add a tablespoon to your smoothie, or try baking with it. You’ll never know you’re eating bugs (maybe).
A couple weeks ago I received an invitation to the premiere of the new web series Buggin Out—a series devoted to cooking buggy cuisine. Things like mealworm bolognese, cricket burgers, and hopper cocktails were all on the menu for the event, and I knew that my opportunity to eat insects had finally arrived. I could preach all I wanted about the benefits of eating bugs, but until I actually swallowed one, it all meant nothing. I decided now was the time to finally put my money where my mouth was and signed myself right up. What followed was…interesting.
Before the dinner, my colleagues got me pumped.
Just kidding, they absolutely did not. Almost everyone I told grimaced and apologized, as if it were their fault that I’d signed up for a night of eating bugs. It’s fine guys, I WAS FINE.
When I arrived at the event, I was immediately handed a hopper cocktail. Much to my relief, there was no actual grasshopper on it.
The cocktail was made with critter bitters—a type of bitter made with toasted crickets and an assortment of herbs and spices—and bourbon. Frankly, none of it tasted like bugs, it all just tasted like alcohol. Which I was totally fine with. The rim of the glass, however, was decorated with one tiny, blue, pickled hornworm, which I knew I’d have to eat at some point. “Throw back your drink, then eat the worm,” another guest said to me. This is exactly what I did. As the alcohol began to settle into my mostly empty stomach and I started to feel a slight buzz, I worked up the nerve to slowly moved the hornworm from the edge of my glass to the tip of my tongue. And then I chomped down. It popped in a way similar to a mushy grape, and it had a sour flavor similar to a white currant. And I kind of liked it. So far, so good.
Then, I was handed a plate of mealworm bolognese with cricket pasta.
Which also ended up being pretty good! The mealworms had a texture that was astonishingly similar to meat, and the cricket pasta had practically the same gummy mouthfeel as regular pasta (perhaps another high-protein option for the lentil pasta averse?). The pasta also had a kind of smoky and earthy flavor, which I assumed was because of the crickets. Not my favorite bowl of bolognese ever, but definitely not bad.
Things got tricky when the cricket sliders arrived.
The sliders looked like regular sliders, but they were most certainly not regular sliders. I took one bite and got a mouthful of little cricket parts. And let me just tell you, crickets are not easy to chew. I spent a good 45 seconds to 1 minute chewing my one tiny bite. Slowly I gnawed through little bits of exoskeleton and antennas…I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it. All of this aside, the actual flavor of the burger was not so bad, but I just could not with the texture. But others around me loved the burger—perhaps it was just I who wasn’t a fan of that buggy texture.
Next up, bug sushi. Oy.
Remember my complaint about how long the crickets took to chew? Well one piece of the sushi roll (which was filled with kafir-infused crickets and sticky turmeric rice) took even longer—about two minutes in total. It was so sticky and goopy and really, really not for me. And if it took Americans a while to get on board with regular sushi, I doubt this will be catching on any time soon.
And honeyworm cookies for dessert.
I quickly learned that I was really only comfortable eating bugs if they didn’t actually look like bugs. Which is why I wasn’t able to take more than one bite of this cookie. It was sweet and actually pretty tasty—made with honey and mealworms—but I was getting to a point where the last thing I wanted to see was another insect.
The big finale: Fried scorpions with insect fondue.
I was able to muster up the strength for this last dish, because I’d convinced myself that the fried scorpions were going to taste like soft shell crabs—a type of shellfish that I love. Don Peavy—or Chef PV as he is known—is the host of Buggin Out and mastermind behind the night’s menu, and he was frying the scorpions in real time. He heated up the oil and the masses gathered around to watch. Into the pot the scorpions fell one by one—PV let them cook until they were crispy and browned. I had snagged a spot close to the action, so I was able to snatch a scorpion while they were still hot. I dipped it into the fondue—which wasn’t actually made of insects, rather two different kinds of cheese and beer—stuck it into my mouth and chomped.
The first thing I noticed: It was a little furrier than I would have liked. The tail was covered in bristly hairs that tickled the roof of my mouth, and I did not love that. The rest of the experience was mostly enjoyable, though there was a bit of an ammonia-like aftertaste at the finish. I didn’t love the scorpions as much as I’d hope to, but definitely like them better than the cricket burgers.
Final score: I enjoyed three out of six dishes and am somewhat prepared for the inevitable rise of insect cuisine.
For my first-ever buggy encounter, I consider this a mostly successful experience. Will I eat bugs again? Yes, definitely, though I’d prefer that they be ground up as they were in the pasta, rather than served whole. And I think that this is the approach that will end up resonating with Western masses. Because if we do really want to embrace entomophagy as other parts of the world have, we’re going to have to stop treating it like a dare—meaning more cricket flour, fewer cricket