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Insects as Food – Raw, Cooked or Dipped in Chocolate?

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edible insects

Deep-fried insects for human consumption sold at food stall in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I saw Gemma the other day and she looks much better now the doctor’s put her on the bee and grasshopper diet. She blamed Robert for providing nothing but low-protein dishes. But I told her, it was her own fault. If you are going to name your robot Robert, you can expect reprisals. I’ve had Sebastian two years and he’s totally devoted.

My story is set in the not too distant future and is inspired by the World Health Organization (WHO) report that of the world’s seven billion people, one billion are malnourished. The lack of food stocks is caused by over-farming, soil degradation, deforestation, climate change, and a population that grows by over 200,000 every day. There are water shortages across the globe and a developing world demanding the same annual growth and consumer products that people expect as normal in the developed nations.

According to UN estimates, even by 2030, the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water, at a time when a changing environment is putting new limits on supply. Dial forward another 15 years, and the world population will have reached nine billion, which brings me back to Gemma and her bee and grasshopper diet.

Insects are free, high in protein and, when you think about it, no weirder nutritionally than oysters, eels, frog’s legs, blowfish, pig’s trotters, sheep’s eyes, blood sausage, shark fins, sweetbreads and caviar – though in the last case that is probably best suited to Russian oligarchs, selling, as it does, in gold tins at $25,000 a kilo at the Caviar House & Prunier in Piccadilly.

Steve McQueen’s character, in the 1973 movie Papillon adapted from Henri Charrière’s memoir, stays strong and survives by eating insects while in solitary confinement in the French penal colony on Devil’s Island. It seems more than a coincidence to me that his nickname was “Papillon,” butterfly in French, an insect. “Papillon” is also slang for parking ticket!

According to Insects Are Food, there are 1,462 recorded species of edible insects. Crickets are the McDonald’s of the bug world; 100 grams of crickets contains 121 calories and 12.9 grams of protein.

Vegetarians should be warned before joining Special Forces. In survival training, recruits learn to eat creepy-crawlies, live and well as cooked.

In her wonderfully titled book Creepy Crawly Cuisine ($14 on Amazon), biologist Julieta Ramos-Elorduy lists the most popular edible insects, popular, that is, in her recipes: grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, the most popular and high in protein; beetles; butterflies and moths at the caterpillar stage, high in iron and protein; bees and wasps taken from the hive; flies and mosquitoes – which take on the flavour of the food they feed on, like asparagus, I assume; waterboatmen and backswimmers with eggs like caviar; stinkbugs, smelly but high in iodine; and ants, which are low in calories but high in protein and calcium.

Chocolate-covered ants made by Columbia’s Guane Indians are a famous delicacy and only £6.99 at Selfridge’s, the departmental store in Oxford Street. I bought a box for Gemma, her birthday’s coming. I won’t tell her the crunchy centres are ants until after she’s eaten them. That will give Robert a good laugh.

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About Chloe Thurlow

I am the girl at the bar at 2.00 in the morning who looks like she should have gone home and maybe has no home to go to. In case you see me, I'm the one with the notebook. I write in the dead hours as the night planes follow the Thames into London, where I was born and where I moved from west to east like a migrating swallow. Each of my five novels has taken a year from conception to birth. I love them. They are my children. I never sleep. I have no time to sleep. A candle is always burning at
  • William O’Brien

    Very clever Chloe!

  • Ed Moran

    It’s not really surprising once you consider that when compared to many cultures, we are squeamish.

    We either fear or avoid healthy foods and prefer to ingest some of the nastiest, toxic garbage ever created.

    Chloe, I find your creativity, like your mind without equal. Everything of yours that I have read I find at the very least “Thought provoking”.

    • Chloe Thurlow

      Ed, I’m blushing, thank you.

  • foto2021

    The French have long eaten ‘plats de fruits de mer’ many of whose constituents closely resemble insects, although they are of course seafood. The reasons advanced for eating them include their high protein content, however I think it has more to do with a French fascination for eating anything that moves, provided it is properly cooked and served.

    • Chloe Thurlow

      …and served with a chilled white wine.

  • BugGrub Limited

    Love your blog and we’ve shared it online. There are load of different bugs out there to try and you don’t have to frequent London’s department stores to get your hands on some. If you wanted a few to “taste” drop us a tweet Chloe and we’ll send you a few freebies.