Tastes Like Lemon: The Time I Ate Ants (& more about eating insects)

Photo of Beondegi by Alpha

This is the most self-deprecating thing I have ever posted online.   But you know what they say: If you can laugh at yourself, you will never cease to be amused.

My interest in this topic started with one of only a handful of regrets I have obtained through life. I’m just not prone to regrets, apparently, given that this makes that short list.

The only food I have ever passed up was merely denied because of insect-status.  I’ve eaten all types of wonderful, disgusting, even exotic things through travels to South America, Africa, Russia, and Europe.  My singular food-declination were the fried caterpillars of South Africa (maybe it was Botswana?).  I nearly ate one until someone beat me to it and I heard the thing crunch. 

We all knew we were ingesting an occasional bug part anyway, right?  Back in 2012, the FDA modified the stance to allow up to 225 bug parts per 225 grams of pasta.   I find that number shocking.  That golden-brown hue of the “whole wheat” might be something else after all.   If you eat foods with synthetic ingredients and food dye, you might be getting some bug parts.  For kicks and giggles, research “Red Dye #40.”  If you had a flu shot this year, it might have been formulated in insect cells that were infected with diseaseAnd you never even knew that, did you?  But would anyone eat insects intentionally?

Several years ago, the idea of eating insects was the new-old thing.  People have been eating them since the beginning of time–and it’s a fabulous alternative to starvation– but it somehow became a fad in 2013.  Marjory WIldcraft (a name many of you will likely recognize) has been encouraging people to know and consume edible insects for many years; people started listening.  Specialty chip companies sought and received FDA approval for the inclusion of insects, and there is no shortage of chocolate-covered or chipotle-flavored varieties online.  Insects are a very cheap source of protein and that logic seems obvious, but Science Daily gives 7 reasons that eating insects might be a worthwhile idea.   In 2014, Ghent University studied this sudden change in bug cuisine acceptance, and they determined a few things: they found that men who have a weak association as meat eaters and who are also environmentally conscious are the biggest crowd to jump into this new diet–up to 75% of people who fall into that category are ready to start crunching!

This video was taken several years ago when I attended a two-week permaculture design course.  Excuse the rough video; I just came across this and thought it would be fun to humiliate myself on the internet.  I determined that I would not again pass up on the opportunity to try something offered to me.

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Interested in learning what insects are viable dinner fare? Or maybe you’re curious for the gross-out factor.  This website gives you both (the banner image at the top is eeky-gick).  Scott Booth, a customer of Pantry Paratus, has a personal expertise on the matter, and this is what he has to say (about ants tasting like lemon):

Depends on the ant. Some have enough fomic acid that they have that sour taste like lemon. Others, like honey ants, drink nectar and taste bittersweet. Some, like big carpenter ants are unpleasant to eat and have a nutty taste with bitter overtones. Same with termites. The eggs don’t have much taste but have a texture like squishy rice and an unpleasant odor, much like the larva or maggots. Grubs might be nutritious, but are really vile tasting with a consistancy of tapioca with a slightly hard jelly-like shell. You are better off roasting them for a few minutes if you can, but it won’t help the smell or taste, just firms up the gooey insides. I don’t recommend crickets, hoppers, or beetles simply because of the scratchy nature of the shells as they go down. You will be hard pressed not to puke from the irritation to your gag reflex. Always chew the live critters completely, no matter HOW disgusting. The last thing you want is something catching in your throat with pincers or claws and trying to crawl its way back out. Chewing a worm or bug is pretty nasty stuff, dead or alive, but you have to get past the bias and work through it. It’s survival, not dinner at McDonalds. The fat and protein content of an insect is higher per ounce than beef or chicken.

Think I just lost my appetite,

Chaya


UPDATE:  After humiliating myself on this blog, I was asked to write more about the subject.  If you are interested in learning more about eating insects (or at least, the reasons most of us object to it), read here.

Resources:

Center for Disease and Research Policy, University of Minnesota.  FDA approves first flu vaccine grown in insect cells. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2015.
Ghent University. (2014, August 28). Study reveals drivers of Western consumers’ readiness to eat insects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 11, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140828115250.htm
Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). (2015, June 9). Seven reasons to eat insects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 11, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150609124315.htm
Weller, C. (n.d.). FDA Allows Bugs In Your Food: Food Must Reach ‘Defect Action Levels’ To Be Labeled Unsafe. Retrieved July 12, 2015.
photo credit: Beondegi by Alpha   (that’s silkworm larvae, in case you were wondering)

 

 

4 thoughts on “Tastes Like Lemon: The Time I Ate Ants (& more about eating insects)

  1. I ate chocolate covered crickets. They were quite tasty!

  2. I give kudos on the video but och…the only way I will willing consume bugs is if I’m looking at starvation. 😉

    And, it’s safe to say I will now stress the complete mastication of all bugs and not a quick swallow.

    Ugh. Good post though!

    ~Honey

  3. I found your name looking for anyone that had experience producing microgreens at home hydroponically, maybe on a big enough scale for more than a garnish. Your “how to” was really just a “why to” so I logged into facebook (I’m no good at FB – use a fake name and just follow my kid around Asia and follow news) – anyway, then I see “other articles by Chaya” and there you are, EATING BUGS! In addition to thinking about doing veggies in my apartment, I was giving bugs some though, for cheap, available protein. I even thought, it might be possible to raise them so that they’re less toxic, harvested humanely in a controlled environment etc. Worms, maybe? I live on the river and bought a crawdad trap last week. It’s a very clean river. Anyway…. YAY for eating bugs!. (it’s the innards that scunner me… you can’t gut them like a fish, eh?) I’m single, live austerely, have a thousand square feet, over the river. that only gets Sun in the morning but…. I want to grow microgreens… lots of them. My deck is reserved for the Woodpeckers I feed so that’s out. I have no idea why I’m writing this. thanks for your article and video and the work you do. I had a friend with an idea that never happened you could make happen. You want to introduce people to their kitchens and show them around? How about a Ghetto Fabulous Cookbook, to teach people how to cook from scratch or at least, what to do with the mix and match of stuff, how to pick stuff that’s better for you…. from Food Banks and Pantries. A lot of these young families have NO IDEA how to preserve or prepare food…. what’s nutritious or not.

    1. Wow, thank you for all of your thoughts, experiences, and ideas! Yes, hydroponics is a fantastic way to go, especially in small spaces–it’s something that I myself still need to learn more efficiently. Bugs–I have another great article about it that hasn’t been published yet on someone else’s site, so be sure to follow us on your occasional-facebook account and/or sign up for our newsletter so that you can catch the announcement about that piece when it comes out. As an “fyi” I learned that 113 countries (out of 200 in existence) have insects as a part of their cultural food offerings. Those of us in America are easily weirded out, but we are definitely a minority, and insects will do much to help fight world hunger and all that it entails with improved production sanitation, etc. You know, it’s my dream to come up with a great cookbook and your idea is a fantastic one. Thanks for finding & following what we are doing here on Pantry Paratus!

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