Chapuline cookies

“One freezing night at the end of February, Dunkel, who is petite, with fluffy gray curls and rosebud lips, was puttering around her kitchen, a large pair of glasses suspended from a sparkly chain around her neck and an apron tied at her waist. She pulled out her old Betty Crocker recipe binder – she has had it since 1962 – and put on her glasses. She opened it to a page, yellow with use, for chocolate chip Toll house cookies. Like many cooks, Dunkel likes to make a recipe her own. Betty Crocker called for half a cup of chopped walnuts. In the margin, in a loopy hand – the penmanship of a girl who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin in the nineteen-fifties – Dunkel had suggested a substitution: ‘or fresh roasted crickets’.”

That’s from the August 15, 2011 issue of the New Yorker. I have been through a rather similar process myself, except in my case I opened a relatively un-aged copy of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, and I chose to adapt the Momofuku peanut butter cookie recipe by removing the 1/2 cup of ground peanut brittle and replacing it with 25g of chapulines – fried, spiced and salted grasshoppers.

Back to Florence Dunkel, who was creating assorted insect-based culinary delights to provide some novel and insightful experiences for her students at Montana State University.

“Dunkel stayed up baking until three. The next day, at Insects and Human Society, she had her students do a honey tasting, reminding them that honey is, of course, the vomit of a bee. Then Ky-Phuong Luong, the T.A., stirred a wok full of vegetables and soy-marinated crickets, and Dunkel passed a plate of fritters with yellowish wax worms protruding from their centers. “We left out the bacon,” she said, smiling sweetly. The students talked about ethnocentrism (eighty per cent of the world eats insects with pleasure), sustainability, and the earth’s diminishing resources. After a while, they started, tentatively, to eat. A young man in a green wool ski cap said that he would be more enthusiastic if he had some beer to wash the insects down. Standing before a plate of brownies fortified with a mash of sautéed meal worms, he said despondently, ‘This is the future! You’ll eat worms and like it. You gotta eat something.’”

It’s a difficult thing to get your head around if you’ve grown up in a culture that associates insects with fear and filth, and certainly not with anything even resembling an edible meal. But that’s not really an adequate reason to go with the initial knee-jerk “ugh that’s gross” reaction and to think no more of it, because consuming insects could play a part in solving a lot of pressing problems regarding food production. The carbon footprint of meat production, the ethics of animal farming and slaughtering, the need to feed an ever-increasing global population – insects could play a part in the solution. To continue quoting with abandon from the New Yorker article, because in one single paragraph it eloquently sums up many of the arguments in favour of eating insects:

“From an ecological perspective, insects have a lot to recommend them. They are renowned for their small “footprint”; being cold-blooded, they are about four time as efficient at converting feed to meat as are cattle, which waste energy keeping themselves warm. Ounce for ounce, many have the same amount of protein as beef – fried grasshoppers have three times as much – and are rich in micronutrients like iron and zinc. Genetically, they are so distant from humans that there is little likelihood of diseases jumping species, as swine flu did. They are natural recyclers, capable of eating old cardboard, manure and by-products from food manufacturing. And insect husbandry is humane: bugs like teeming, and thrive in filthy, crowded conditions.”

The whole venture seems to make a decent amount of sense, but once the insects are cleaned and prepared for consumption, it would still require a bit of gentle easing into it all – not going straight for substituting the meat in a stew or casserole with scoops of whole mealworms or something like that, but getting the more hesitant people used to the idea by adding ground mealworms to chocolate or a scattering of fried crickets into a salad, as were offered to supermarket customers in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

Or by encasing some nice little grasshoppers in a delicious cookie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *