Could the world's most influential chefs - including Heston Blumenthal and René Redzepi - help quell the growth in global food shortages by serving up edible insects?
This week saw the unveiling of the world’s first (and most expensive) ‘cultured beef’ burger in London – rumoured as the answer to global food issues. Now, there’s a new addition on the menu to cure global food shortages and world hunger: BUGS.
If you’ve ever travelled to Asia, you’ll be well aware of the edible insect industry that manifests itself in tourist-filled night markets and street stalls, beckoning to flash-packers in shorts and ‘Beer-Lao’ stringlets to try a morsel or two from their mounding displays of whole, deep-fried and crispy creepy-crawlies.
The reality is that while our insect-eating adventures make for great holiday stories once we’re back at home, eating our usual meat-and-two-veg, most of Asia actually live on this fare. Full time.
And they’ve got it completely right; according to statistics, the livestock industry is responsible for 17-18% of greenhouse emissions, through production, transport and digestive gases. Compare this to insects which reproduce quickly, have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint and these six (or even 100 – depending on variety you opt for, of course) legged foodie friends become a real catch.
Perhaps not true for all of the world’s most influential chefs right now, it does seem that Galante could be on to something with his plan to introduce insects to the world through fine dining. Thoroughly unconvinced by the idea, chef Quique Dacosta says there’s too much of a "cultural barrier" for creepy-crawlies to make a culinary breakthrough. René Redzepi chef and co-owner of the world's best restaurant (according to San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list from 2010 to 2012) Noma, Copenhagen, on the other hand regularly serves up insects including ants and fermented grasshoppers. His Nordic Food Lab moreover, has received Kr3.6m (about £400,000) from environmental charity the Velux Foundation to further its research into edible insects, in an effort to bring the trend to the fine-dining scene.
Of course, the idea is not new. In 1885, amateur naturalist Vincent M Holt wrote a pamphlet called Why Not Eat Insects? – a compilation of insect-based recipes like slug soup and moths on toast.
Acclaimed British chef Heston Blumenthal has also plunged his hand into the nest that is edible insects, apparently, pulling a short straw. His ‘Edible Insects’ menu, which he featured on his Channel 4 showHeston’s Feats went down like a cricket, swirling through a plughole.
Despite Heston’s set-back, Eduardo Galante, professor of zoology at Alicante University and an expert in entomology, is convinced award-winning restaurants and esteemed chefs are the answer to dispelling people’s bad feelings of eating bugs: “I'm convinced that, if one day an important chef decides to put insects on the menu, then from that day on people will eat insects. Somebody like Ferran Adrià or Quique Dacosta. At the moment eating insects, in the west, is considered something just for frikis [geeks]."
Rather promisingly, luxury food merchants Fortnum & Mason also sell a range of insects called "Edible" that includes ant lollipops and toffee scorpions. A sure sign that insects are scuttling in, by the mass-load, to the high-end food industry. No?
Perhaps not. According to Aran Dasan of London-based insect marketers Ento says: "Everyone doing insects at the moment seems to be focusing on them as a novelty."
Ento is a group of young designers with a long-term mission which includes plans for an insect restaurant and, eventually, insect ready-meals in the supermarket. Their inspiration? Surprisingly conventional, sushi: "Sushi was one of our big case studies," explains Dasan. "It's gone from relative obscurity to being available in Tesco in just 30 years. That's a very fast change in food perception. What sushi does very well is that it's fun, visually appealing and shareable because it's bite-size."
Bite-size or not, I personally belong in the camp of the ‘bug-er offs’, when it comes to insect-fare for now, awaiting a tasting menu of deep-fried tarantula and Sous-Vide steamed termites to tickle my taste buds…