Bugs are the next big food trend

Are insects really the next superfood?

Edible insects are trendy. But do mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers really have the potential to become new superfoods? We attended an insect cooking class.

«Close your eyes and go through», I think as I stand in front of the bowls with the aperitif snacks. Inside are roasted and seasoned crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms. “Nibble insects go just as well with white wine as nuts,” Timothée Olivier, head of the insect cooking course, encourages me. He works for Essento, a Swiss startup that was founded five years ago and helped pave the way for insects as legal food. In four-hour courses like this one in the Zürcher Mühle Tiefenbrunnen, educational work is carried out on insects. And showed how and what you can actually cook with them in everyday life.

There's always a first time

So, hops, disgust aside! It's just a matter of the head anyway. Once bitten into the crispy grasshopper, a hay-like taste spreads in my mouth, which is nutty in the finish and takes a lot of getting used to. A wing sticks to the palate. During the introductory round, just before my turn, I finally manage to unravel the grand piano and can finally concentrate on the other course participants.

For example, on Alissia, the gourmet editor who claims to eat everything, the last time the maggots were in Ecuador, which tasted like bacon. Or Sandro, who says he has only involuntarily swallowed insects, namely while driving a motorcycle. And to the apprentice chef Pascal, who has already tried insect burgers and now wants to find out what other options there are in the kitchen with "the things".

There is a lot to be said for insects as a new superfood, especially now that the avocado has fallen into disrepute.

Insects are becoming mainstream

"Oh, there are a lot of them," says Olivier, referring to the menu plan for dinner together, which we will then prepare at various cooking stations - from the simple insect and snack mix to teriyaki and grasshopper skewers, mealworms Hay soup and a cricket spread to summer rolls and mealworm pralines. The mise en place with freeze-dried and thawed insects has already taken place.

The major distributors join in

Popularized by the media and nutritionists as the “superfood of the future” and stylishly staged in gourmet temples and many new cookbooks, edible insects have meanwhile reached supermarket shelves. After small organic and delicatessen shops with a pioneering spirit, more and more wholesalers around the world are adding insect products to their range. Also in Switzerland.

Since May 2017, the three insect species crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers have been permitted by law as food and can be sold and traded. In the same year, Coop added Essento insect burgers and bars to its range, followed by snack mixes with whole insects and nuts. For a few months now, Migros has also been offering dried insects with its own line “Mi Bugs” - nicely packaged and attractively, as it should be today.

Breeding animals without antibiotics

Essento sources the insects for its products from Swiss organic farms, among others, of which there are not that many yet. “Our condition is that the worms are big, golden and healthy and not treated with antibiotics,” says Timothée Olivier. In the Swiss breeders, one is located in Endingen AG, the animals are pulled in vertical, stacked drawers for about two months and then, by slowly lowering the temperature, first put them in a twilight state before they finally freeze to death.

"Due to the complex processing and the small quantities, insects are still about as expensive as meat or soy," explains Olivier. On the other hand, it also takes fewer insects in terms of quantity to get full: "Due to their protein content, they have a high degree of satiety." The insects are fed with industrial by-products such as spent grains, which are left over from brewing, and oat flakes or wheat bran, both waste products of the flour industry. Or with crooked carrots and dented apples that no one wants to buy anymore.

Insects are still a niche product

Despite the large suppliers behind it and products that are attractive, mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers do not yet seem to be gaining ground in the masses. According to the Coop press office, they are satisfied with the sales so far and believe in the future of insect food, even if this is still treated as a niche product for the time being.

While insects have been on the menu in Africa, Asia and South America for centuries, it is still difficult in North America and Western Europe to eat animals that have more than four legs. Although cockchafer soup was still popular in Switzerland in the second half of the 19th century, the image of the insect as a vermin that spreads diseases still seems deeply rooted - and arouses disgust in many people.

At a glance

facts and figures

Even the Aztecs and Mayans ate ants, grasshoppers and larvae every day. Today there are around 2000 edible insect species - and over 2 billion people worldwide who consume them regularly.

allergies

Insects are related to crustaceans, so people with an allergy can also react to insects. Likewise people with a house dust mite allergy.

Cooking class

Essento regularly offers cooking courses (CHF 150).

How are more than nine billion people fed?

There is actually a lot to be said for insects as a superfood, especially now that the avocado has fallen into disrepute. Insects are one of the oldest sources of protein known to man. Together with the vitamins and trace elements they contain, they can at best be even more nutrient-rich than meat, to be found between nuts and avocados.

They are more environmentally friendly anyway, because insects need much less water, food and land for breeding than the widespread mass livestock farming, which squandered vast amounts of resources in industrial agriculture and, according to the World Food Organization of the United Nations, is responsible for around a fifth of all greenhouse gases.

Even if it is a currently hip lifestyle, the insect food trend is based on the big topic of global hunger: How do we want to feed more than nine billion people in the future? Wouldn't it make sense to cover our protein needs with maggots, mealworms and other insects instead of environmentally harmful meat? Wouldn't insects be a good alternative, especially for people who want to consume less meat?

Unfavorable countermovement

The culinary expert Patrick Zbinden, who has been dealing with the subject of insect food since 2000, is also a laudable thought. After the freelance Swiss journalist bred insects and gave cooking classes in his own apartment almost twenty years ago, he sees things a little more soberly today. "Unfortunately, I no longer believe that the world will get better just because we are now discovering insects as food in our affluent society," says Zbinden.

This is because at the same time, for example in Asia and South America, where insect eating has a long tradition, the reverse is happening: "There, the need for meat increases with increasing prosperity, because the consumption of meat is still a status symbol in many places."

More acceptance thanks to Maya the Bee

Nevertheless, he thinks it is good to remain open to insects as long as grasshoppers, crickets and the like are not used as decorative showmanship. "I have noticed that a younger generation in particular has less fear of contact with the subject," says Zbinden. Children today would grow up with positive insect characters like Maya the Bee and films like "A Bug's Life". A rethink is currently taking place. “Do you remember how prawns, which, by the way, belong biologically to the same family as insects, were once viewed with suspicion? Or the exotic kiwi, which was touted as a vitamin C bomb in the 1980s? " Ultimately, all of these foods would have taken time to find acceptance in our kitchen.

"Eeeeee!" and «Aaaahs»!

In the meantime, all course participants have taken their seats around the large table. In front of us are nicely arranged platters and plates, some of which you have to look very carefully to spot insects. Now it's time to try it out. While there was a lively exchange around the stove while cooking - with lots of «Eeeeeeeeeks!» and "Aaaahs!" when skewering grasshoppers - a thoughtful silence now spreads when tasting. Or is it rather an embarrassed silence? A straw-like, fibrous consistency A short round of questions shows that at the end of the course, many feel the same as I do: It's interesting to see how easy insects can be used in cooking and it is inspiring how differently they can be prepared. The ecological idea also convinces me.

An experience that resonates

But the big wow experience when eating does not happen - at least when it comes to taste. Either the insects taste too intense for me, as is the case with the cricket pesto, or you can hardly taste them like with the summer rolls and in the soup. And then there is the straw-like, fibrous consistency of whole animals that takes getting used to. Even hours after the end of the course, this feeling of the grasshopper's wing sticking to the throat remains.

When I later offer my children a couple of grasshoppers and mealworms that I brought with me in Tupperware as a snack at home, they look at them with fascination and very carefully, but then decline with thanks. And prefer to reach into the nutshell.