Never in a million years!
Should we learn to love eating insects?
Fried grasshoppers – a Mexican delicacy – are currently on offer in one London restaurant. Is it time to get over our squeamishness and learn to savour the taste of bugs?
On the menu the Mexican delicacy is described as “chapulines fundido“. Having eaten it – indeed polished it off – I would say it is the equivalent of an “insect moussaka”. The bottom layer is made of pureed fried grasshoppers (chapulines), which have been flavoured with softened shallots, garlic, smoky chipotle chillies and lime juice, topped with a gooey, fondue-style blanket of mozzarella and cheddar cheese (queso fundido). You can scoop it up, street-style, with corn tortillas or get stuck in with a knife and fork. And so that you are under no illusion whatsoever about the main ingredient, the dish is garnished with three crispy grasshopper bodies – minus legs and wings. Yum – or not.
Grasshoppers, of course, don’t routinely feature anywhere on British restaurant menus, but that could all be about to change. Wahaca, the sustainable Mexican street-food restaurant chain co-founded by MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers, is trialling the dish for one month only at its South Bank restaurant in London. It claims the unusual move – some might say shameless PR stunt – reflects its ethos of providing interesting, flavoursome fare while encouraging people to take the next step in sustainable eating by swapping meat for a protein-rich, environmentally friendly alternative. Meanwhile in a documentary next Monday on BBC4, Stefan Gates asks if eating bugs – from tarantulas to grasshoppers – can “save the world”.
More than 1,000 insect species are eaten in 80% of countries – mostly in the tropics. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are vital to meeting the nutritional needs of the world’s growing population but they hardly feature in the diets of many rich nations. As an ingredient, chapulines are a healthy alternative to meat; cooked grasshopper contains up to 60% protein, with 6% fat. Miers herself believes eating insects is no different from eating shrimp or prawns; after all, like insects, they are arthropods.
“It’s just not in our psyche at the moment,” she says. “The chapulines fundido is a great introduction to the beautiful earthy flavour of these insects as it tastes amazing and a salsa is much more palatable for the more squeamish diners out there.”
You can’t argue with the need to get us to eat more sustainably, but given Britons’ aversion to dealing with, let alone eating insects, what do the punters think? On a chilly Monday evening – the first full day of the experiment – a handful of early evening diners at the South Bank restaurant have ordered the dish.
Friends Kate Franklin and Bella Lawrence have eaten more than half the portion they are sharing. “It was very tasty, very lemony in flavour,” says Kate, a 22-year old photographer. But Bella, also 22, isn’t sure about “the three smiley faces” on top, which lie uneaten. The pair agree that the initiative was a commendable one. The chain is doing a steady trade in the dish, if not a roaring one. General manager Dean Hughes said he expects the restaurant – which has 90 covers – to serve up 30 portions by the close of play. After the horsemeat scandal people are definitely looking for alternatives to meat,” he says.
In fact there seems to be more criticism of the heavy cheese layer – which tends to congeal as it gets cold – than the insect content. Personally, I enjoy the rich, smoky flavour and texture of the dish. But even I am unable to wolf down an entire bowl of crunchy grasshopper bodies, which are typically served in Mexico as bar snacks washed down with cold beer. And there is also the issue of the insects’ carbon footprint. Those used by Wahaca – vaccuum-packed in large bags – are imported to the UK from Oaxaca in Mexico.
Have you eaten insects, anywhere in the world? And could you imagine making them a part of your regular diet? Should we westerners just learn to get over our squeamishness?
Sorry, but no thanks, I am definitely a part of the squeamish brigade.