Bug Appetit

Oct 15, 2015

The fourth annual “Bug fest” is Saturday, 10/17 at Virginia Tech. It’s not an ‘infestation’… It’s a chance for the entomology department to celebrate insects of all kinds..  But this year, Bug FEST could turn into a ‘bug’ FEAST, and the public is invited .

“I’m going to make two recipes.  I’m going to make teriyaki grass hoppers.  I’m also going to make a deep fried Tarantula spider…

That’s David George Gordon a chef from Seattle who specializes in tasty insects. He’ll be in Blacksburg for Bugfest preparing them for people to try. The annual celebration of everything insect is a chance to learn about these important species.  And for a growing number of people, tasting them, just another way to appreciate them.

“It seems like we have moved past the ‘ick’ and past the novelty and people are, more and more, looking at this like, ’Oh, this is just another protein,’ because, honestly we eat lobster which is truly nothing more than an ocean cockroach.

Tim McCoy is a Research Specialist in the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech.

“Eating insects is going to make for cleaner and healthier planet.  That is because insects are more efficient at producing protein from the available food stock, they produce less waste products, they can do it on a smaller foot print of land, they don’t require as much water and so there’s a lot of reasons why they are a useful and viable protein source and it’s going to be growing..”

And so is acceptance of idea of eating bugs. The United Nations estimates they’re already part of the traditional diet of two billion people on the planet.  And now scientists are finding for the first time, it could catch on in developed countries.

“There’s a world wide search on now for high quality sources of protein.”

Robert Williams is associate professor of Food Science at Virginia Tech. He points to a survey, in a brand new publication called, The Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. It found 72% of westerners said they were willing to consume insects.  But he cautions…

“With any food there’s risk the issue is managing that risk.”

A food borne illness expert, Williams says if prepared properly, many bugs are safe to eat. But you have to know what you’re doing. For example, it’s fine to feast on  grass hoppers you can’t eat grasshoppers legs. They’re beyond indigestible

“So from the standpoint of grasshoppers in this case, with these legs, not being digestible and being lodged in the intestines, it’s a matter of understanding the practices of how to prepare them.  It would be very much like eating an apple and taking the stem off instead of eating the stem.”

And he points out that people allergic to shellfish, should also stay away from eating insects –.  But for the most part, “entomophagy,” the technical term, is considered safe.  A report published earlier this month by the European Food Safety Authority concluded the most important factor was how the animals were raised and processed. 

Experts say the future is insect farming where those conditions can be controlled, not wild harvesting.  And a new industry may be on the horizon using dried insect protein as a food ingredient. One company called EXO makes protein bars using cricket flour and he brought some for me to taste. 

Tasting the protein bar: “ Mmmm!  That’s good.  –It is…”

Unwrapping the paper and foil on the bar may be one way to get past the ‘ick’ factor.