May 26, 2017

Insects: some are true pests, some are key components of the ecosystem and others are mostly harmless one way or the other. These creatures have a major impact on the dishes cooked by student chefs seeking an online culinary arts certificate, affecting the availability of certain ingredients.

Insects also a play a more direct role in cuisine when they act as a featured ingredient in a dish. While insects as food are a relatively novel offering in many parts of North America and Europe, they’re more established in other parts of the world.

Why don’t people eat insects already?

“Jumiles are most notably eaten live in tacos.”

The simple answer to this question is people in parts of Asia, Africa, Central and South America and Mexico, among other countries, already eat a variety of insects. A number of insects native to Mexico, from chicatanas – giant winged ants seen in Oaxaca among other cities and towns – to jumiles – stink bugs – are used in various dishes. Chicatanas may be pan roasted and served with lime, as Lonely Planet pointed out, or further processed into a salsa. Jumiles are most notably eaten live in tacos in cities like Taxco, south of Mexico City.

There are many more examples to cite, from deep-fried insects sold in markets across Thailand to Ghana, where various cockroach preparations are a staple food. That’s especially the case during planting season, before many other foods are ready to eat, U.S. News & World Report said. Suffice to say, eating insects in a variety of preparations and dishes isn’t exactly breaking new ground – although many American eaters are likely unfamiliar with them.

Why are insects a good food source?

There are a few major elements to consider when discussing the use of insects as food: nutritional value and flavor, texture and other elements that contribute to the profile of a dish. The nutritional value of insects is clear, both from their presence in traditional cuisine and in more recent scientific efforts to determine caloric value, macronutrient composition and other relevant measurements. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted many insects are a good source of protein, dietary fat and a variety of nutrients.

For chefs, the taste, texture and smell of insects are vital when it comes to preparing an adventurous new dish. While there’s extreme variation in the flavor of insects, some common flavors lend themselves well to a variety of dishes. For example:

  • Termites taste similar to pineapple while raw and have a vegetable flavor when cooked, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s extension program said.
  • Some ant species taste like lemongrass, Food & Wine noted.
  • Fried grasshoppers have a sardine-like flavor.
  • Fried wax moth larvae have a noticeable carbohydrate flavor, like corn puffs or potato chips.

While insects aren’t yet in the comfort zone of many diners – and chefs, for that matter – they offer an entirely new source of ingredients that can have a positive impact on the taste, presentation and novelty of a dish.