Wed, Jul-25-18, 04:48
Fancy a slice of cricket cake? Why cooking with insect powder could be the future
From the Daily Telegraph
25 July, 2018
Fancy a slice of cricket cake? Why cooking with insect powder could be the future of food
"That smells weird," says a confused family member as I add a generous dose of brown powder into my pasta dough. Unlike the usual silky, yellowy-beige mixture, this is a deep, dark brown, and I have visions of Italian nonnas storming my house, waving wooden rolling pins in the air, decrying my crimes against pasta. The reason: I’m baking with cricket flour, which is currently causing a buzz (sorry) in the culinary world.
Why? Well, while UK headlines tell us about the rise of veganism and ‘meat-free Mondays’, global meat consumption is in fact soaring – and some believe insects could be a viable alternative protein.
As the world's population rises (from 7.6 billion today to an estimated 9.7 billion in 2050), and affluence increases, the amount of land and water set aside for meat production will have to grow drastically, with “major negative consequences for land and water use and environmental change,” according to a report published in the journal Science last week.
Consequently, we’re placing a huge strain on the environment, given that livestock are responsible for harmful levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and have an insatiable appetite for food and water. “Changing meat consumption habits is a challenge that requires identifying the complex social factors associated with meat eating and developing policies for effective interventions,” the report concluded.
How might altering these habits work? For many, it’s cutting down on meat. But another option could be a simple one: bugs. Insects are a traditional food source in much of the world – particularly Asia, Africa and South America, the very regions eating more animals. Shifting consumer behaviour over here remains the biggest challenge.
Despite looking a bit like prawns, many of us squirm at the thought of eating crickets. We British are yet to embrace mealworms, ants or any of the other 2,000 edible bugs available across the world.
Recently things have begun to change. Thanks to rising eco-consciousness, as well as a search for healthier food options (crickets contain far more protein, iron and calcium per 100g than chicken, beef or pork), edible insects are slowly beginning to infiltrate our kitchens – and we’re not talking about the cockroaches skittering along your skirting on a hot summer’s evening.
How environmentally friendly are crickets?
According to Eat Grub, citing a UN food report from 2013, farming insects is far more sustainable than more commonly eaten livestock.
For example, per kilo of protein, only 1g of greenhouse gases are emitted, compared with 2,850g for beef, 1,130g for pork, and 300g for chicken.
Just 15 square metres of land is enough for a kilo of insect protein. For beef, the figure is 200 square metres; for pork 50 square metres; and 45 for chicken.
Insects consume one litre of water per kilo of protein. Cows consume 22,000, pork 3,500 and chickens 2,300.
Over the past few years, several European countries, including Britain, have begun permitting insects to be reared and sold as food. Farms producing crickets and other bugs have emerged, such as Thringill Farm in Cumbria, while in Helsinki a bakery now sells cricket bread. The Cricket Cookbook, by Austin Miller and Zoe Anton (available at amazon.co.uk) offers home cooks tips on incorporating the bugs into their diets, through recipes for chocolate chip cookies, blueberry avocado smoothie, and much more.
Perhaps the most appealing method, for Western tastes, is cricket flour: grinding the insects into powder makes them more palatable and easy to use at home. Its flavour is mild and slightly nutty, and the options are endless: bake it in cakes, breads, brownies; mix into pancake batter; or simply add to a smoothie or a protein ball.
According to Sebby Holmes, chef and owner of Thai restaurant Farang, crickets are an incredibly versatile food source. Holmes, who previously cooked at Thai restaurants The Begging Bowl and Som Saa, helps produce recipes for Eat Grub, which sells a variety of insect products in the UK, and puts on bug-themed pop-ups at his north London restaurant.
“It’s limitless what you can do. If you turn crickets into flour they can be sweet or savoury. If you roast them they taste a lot like peanuts; if you fry them, they taste like shrimp. There aren’t too many proteins that can be sweet and savoury just by a cooking method,” Holmes explains.
He says his favourite Thai-inspired dishes like cricket with soy and pandanus (“basically salt and pepper crickets, which school kids in Chiang Mai eat for lunch”) might soon be on the menu full time.
As more and more people search for sustainable ways of eating – locally produced food; plastic-free packaging; less meat – perhaps the time for bugs is now. Intrigued, I picked up some cricket flour via Eat Grub’s website, distributed them among colleagues ranging from dubious to enthusiastic, and we set about seeing how the flour would alter our favourite recipes.
On opening the packet, I was immediately struck by the nutty, chocolatey smell – there were definite hints of Oreo (Holmes recommends cricket brownies). The powder is quite thick, and very expensive at £9.99 for 100g (by comparison a kilo of spelt flour at Tesco costs £2.20), which can only come down when appeal grows and production intensifies.
I went for two options: a cricket pasta and a cricket bread – with surprisingly good results. Substituting around 25 per cent of regular wholemeal flour for cricket powder, a loaf turned out thick and wholesome, and was excellent toasted with a little butter. It didn’t, however, rise as much as regular bread, so the loaf was quite small. Despite using white flour, the pasta ended up darker than wholemeal pasta, though its nutty flavour wasn’t in any way unpleasant.
One colleague opted for pancakes, using one part cricket powder to three parts self-raising flour. “They were deliciously filling with a subtle umami taste. This quick upgrade on my midweek breakfast made me realise how versatile an ingredient cricket flour can be,” she declared.
Another baked brownies, following her favourite fail-safe Nigel Slater recipe, and was a little less impressed. Using 50 per cent cricket flour, the bake was rather different than usual, “ballooning up at one point and then cracking.” It cooked quickly, and the result was “nice and fudgey.” But the brownies had a “slightly bitter aftertaste, and they were a little dusty.” Her housemate pronounced: “I’ve had worse non-cricket brownies.” Overall, they were decent, but that particular household wasn’t blown away.
Shami Radia, co-founder of Eat Grub, which alongside cricket flour stocks products like buffalo worms and an edible insect starter pack, says: “We’re not expecting this to be mass market yet, we’ve got a way to go in terms of getting mass appeal.”
He was inspired after tasting termites during a trip to Malawi. “They were really good served with chilli and lime and a beer,” he explains. “I read later that they’re high in protein and iron, calcium, zinc, omega 3 and 6 – nutritionally they’re second to none. Then there’s the fact they require a fraction of the land, water and feed traditional livestock does. It makes total sense.”
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter agrees: “Crickets are an excellent source of lean protein. They are also a good source of some vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium and B vitamins. And from an environmental point of view they are a much better way to produce protein, creating fewer greenhouse gases and needing much less water.”
If we can all get over our sqeaminshness, insects could fit seamlessly into our eco-friendly, health-conscious diets. Whole bugs might be a bit much for most – I tried some deeply unappetising creepy crawlies in Bangkok – but, in powdered form, they are far more accessible and versatile.
Make it more affordable, and perhaps, in a few years’ time, we’ll all be eating mealworm porridge for breakfast, crunchy roasted crickets as a pub snack, or buffalo worm chilli for dinner.