Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Entomophagy: Bug-eatin' and sustainable systems

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 2, and here for part 3.

If that picture didn't turn you off, I'll have you know that I've been doing my research since yesterday's post, and have found a host of information on entomophagy: the eating of insects and non-insect bugs. It seems that bug eating, while already common practice in places within Africa, Asia, and South America, is starting to catch on in Europe, and even among a select few in America. The Bay Area Bug Eating Society is one U.S. resource, but hardly the only. Dave Garcer is a entomophagy activist of sorts, and gives lectures as well as does catering. His website is

Because many of the bugs that are commonly eaten are decomposers, it makes sense that these bugs could play a significant role in a permaculture situation. Feed plant wastes to your bugs to decompose (just like in your typical vermiculture setup), then harvest some of your bugs for dinner, and move the decomposed waste to the garden area to fertilize. The efficacy of the decomposers in questions might be an issue, but surely there's a solution for every problem.

I've looked at earthworms and mealworms (as well as crickets, mopane worms, giant water bugs, etc.). You've probably heard of mealworms, and that's why they're recommended by entomophagists in the know. They're available at local pet stores as feeders for reptiles. Going to pet store route, or purchasing from an online supplier, is also recommended by the experts because wild caught specimens might contain toxic pesticides. I would tend toward following their advice, just to be on the safe side, although I do wonder: if there wasn't enough pesticide to kill the bug in question, and we've likely ingested a share of pesticides from our non-organic produce, what harm could it do? In any case, I'd follow their lead just to be safe. And, if you get in the habit of eating bugs, you can breed your store bought specimens to make the whole process cost effective.

I got mixed information about how to prepare mealworms, so I asked my fellow blogger at Minilivestock. Rosanna says
I think it's a matter of preference. For myself, I've bought insects, feed them for 1 day, fast them for o1 day adn then on the 3rd day, I'd throw them in the freezer for 15 min or until they've stopped moving (or longer if you want to store them in there until you're ready to cook them).
 She goes on to say that some people pick them fresh out of the bran they're living in and fry them up fresh. More wriggling that way, but she says they're more flavorful that way.

In any case, they're likely fed a meal of cardboard at the pet store it's suggested to put them on a diet of bran (or, some websites have suggest rolled oats or flour) for a day before consuming, so they'll be more nutritious. The fasting is suggested so they can empty their digestive systems, but if you know what they're eating, then as Rosanna suggested, this isn't necessary.

Other than frying, which would probably be my preferred method, many people also toast in an oven and create a kind of flour, which is a more subtle introduction to eating insects. From
Spread your cleaned insects out on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Set your oven 200 degrees and dry insects for approximately 1-3 hours. When the insects are done, they should be fairly brittle and crush easily. Take your dried insects and put them into a blender or coffee grinder, and grind them till they are about consistency of wheat germ. Use in practically any recipe! Try sprinkling insect flour on salads, add it to soups, your favorite bread recipe, on a boat, with a goat, etc also has lots of other information and recipes including insects.

Earthworms are the other bug I've given attention to, mostly because of availability and easy preparation.  Simply soak the earthworms in water over night to have them expel the contents of their gut (other sources suggest putting them in a container with cornmeal, so their guts will be filled in that instead). Then give them a good rinsing and freeze if desired. It's also suggested that one boils their earthworms for at least 10 minutes before preparing them. Frying or roasting again seem to be preferable options for preparing them. More detailed instructions are available courtesy of WormWatch.

If you want a more elaborate recipe using one of these bugs, mealworm spaghetti seems to be a popular recipe, with sources all over the internet, including one on the Clemson University Entomology page.

Of course, lots of the popularly discussed bugs for eating aren't native to the U.S. While breeding them in the U.S. probably isn't a good idea (if they escape they could breed and have devastating effects on native species), one can still try these delicacies in ready to eat form. is one such supplier of edible insects.

If you want tamer things that are also ready to eat, Amazon offers crickets, "Larvets" (which appear to be mealworms), candied scorpions (which are singly, rather than as a case). Since most of these are sold by the case, they're on the expensive side. Also, not good if you're just wanting to sample something.

Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects was a recommended book about a couple of writers visiting different countries and partaking in the cultures' traditional bug eating. And, I've theoretically got a copy of the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (which I mentioned yesterday) on its way from the library. We'll see.

I'm definitely curious now, and I'm thinking about being the guinea pig for my loyal readers. I might pick up some mealworms tomorrow and give them a shot. Admittedly, I'm squeamish about the idea (and sometimes an idea is all it takes to make something unpalatable) but I'm willing to give anything a try. If they're edible (read: tasty), they might just have a place in my permaculture future.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 2, and here for part 3.

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