What Happens When You Eat Bugs for 31 Days: Days 11-18
By Laura D’Asaro and Meghan Proulx
This week in San Francisco:
Expect gusting winds, partly cloudy skies, and a torrential raining down of giant water bugs (into my mouth).
Breakfast: Waterbug Yogurt
Wondering how to eat giant water bugs?
In Thailand they are called Maeng Da and are commonly eaten throughout Southeast Asia. Similarly to how La Croix gets those natural fruit flavors without the fruit, the water bug essence is extracted, and then typically incorporated into sauces.
They are also often eaten whole as a salty snack!
I couldn't get my hands on a whole bug, but I did get some water bug extract from a Cambodian grocery store in nearby Oakland.
The extract smells very intensely of a sweet melon fruit such as a cantaloupe or mango, so use sparingly (Like honestly 1 drop for a bowl of yogurt)!
On my first try, I made the mistake of dousing way too much into a bowl of plain yogurt. The taste was a little too strong and the smell lingered throughout the house all day. You’ll want to seal these potent drops up tight after use unless you want everything in your fridge to have just a touch of water bug flavor to it.
While water bug is usually used in savory dishes, I felt more comfortable eating it in something sweet. So I made a simple water bug yogurt for breakfast and it tasted like the cantaloupe ice cream at Mitchell’s (one of the best ice cream places in San Francisco)!
Look out for a water bug ice cream of my own creation in the coming week! Who knows, maybe even a pop-up ice cream shop down the road.
Lunch: Mealworm and Veggie Sandwich
Can anyone else taste mealworms? Because I can’t! Maybe it’s just me.
Or maybe, once you’ve eaten as many mealworms as I have, you lose the ability to detect them in your food. I poured Entomo Farms BBQ mealworms into every nook of the sandwich I had for lunch today and all I noticed was a little extra crunch.
My guess is that when eaten with bread, the flavors are so similar, and the texture of these mealworms is so light, that it creates a combination that my palate is not refined enough to distinguish.
Since then, I have been carrying mealworms around in my pocket as my “emergency bug.”
Snack: Worm Salt and olive oil bread (Thanks to Merci Mercado for Worm Salt)
What does worm salt taste like?
What exactly is worm salt?
I didn't know either, so I looked it up.
Worm salt is essentially ground-up Maguey worms mixed with salt and chile spices.
Turns out worm salt (known often as sal de gusano) is commonly used in Oaxaca for all sorts of things! It is used as a seasoning in cooking, as well as an add-on to fruits, snacks, salsas, and most famously, to brim glasses of mezcal or tequila.
As many of the booziest readers may already know, worms and alcohol have a history!
Traditionally, a worm was put in tequila to prove the quality. If the worm dissolved, the alcohol content wasn't high enough to preserve it.
The sal de gusano tastes smoky and salty, and was great on bread with olive oil. This is an easy way to make something simple seem fancy, and special.
Days 12 and 13
I had some work to do this weekend in Arizona so I brought along some of my most portable and airport friendly insects: crickets, mealworms, and fly protein.
I laid them out alongside my laptop at security, and there were no issues this time!
This weekend I had homemade cricket chow mein, a "bug-nana" (cricket on a banana, a masterpiece), and even sprinkled crickets all over a fresh tofu and veggie plate with soup.
I was staying at a friend's house, and while there, his parents were even getting into eating bugs. My friend’s mom turned to his dad and said, "Honey, would you like some crickets in your soup?"
I can’t wait for the day a man asks me that in earnest.
I also got to experiment with fly protein from Flying Spark. This protein is made with fruit flies in their first stage, when they are just wee little guys and look like grains of rice. The fruit flies are then made into a dissolvable powder.
I took inspiration from the cricket frappuccino I made last week and mixed up a matcha green tea "fly-po-chino." The protein changed the texture a little but there was no discernable flavor change, such as when you incorporate cricket protein or whey protein.
On my way back to San Francisco, I came across Hotlix lollipops in the airport.
Hotlix started in the 1970s with all kinds of novelty insect snacks including their now famous, scorpion lollipops.
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try a scorpion!
I think each of the ingredients alone would have been okay, maybe even good, but artificial strawberry flavors and scorpion are not the right pairing.
The scorpion tasted slightly nutty and oily, and it was crunchy like a soft shrimp tail but not crunchy in the same way as the candy.
I would go so far as to say there is a reason why you never find candy crusted seafood. The two just didn't mix.
It has officially been two weeks! So many bugs have been eaten, and to celebrate, I had a little bit of leftovers for breakfast and lunch in preparation for a gourmet dinner experience. If you attended the Chirps Bug dinner and movie viewing in April, then you have already experienced the amazing insect cuisine crafted by Rebecca at Sensory Labs.
I got to experience it again for dinner.
Dinner: Spider Tarantula Roll
I was genuinely pretty nervous about this one. The tarantula came in a can, which is not usually where one finds delicious food, and I was pretty intimidated by its size and the many little hairs on its back (which apparently in some varieties of tarantula they use to shoot at enemies).
Rebecca fried it tempura-style until the spider was crispy and golden brown. I broke off a leg and tentatively brought it to my mouth and tried the tiniest bite.
It was crunchy, meaty, and tasted like shrimp.
I took a bigger bite. It was good.
My conclusion of tarantula is the same one I come to when I try many insects for the first time: This tastes like shrimp!
Insects are the seafood of the land, simple as that.
We cut it into pieces, and rolled the tarantula into delicious homemade sushi.
You’ve probably heard the saying “you are what you eat”. Well, hornworms love tomatoes, and when you feed them a diet consisting of mostly tomatoes, they truly taste like plump blue tomatoes. (I wonder what they would taste like if you fed them mostly hot Cheetos.)
With juicy tomatoes, tomato-y hornworms, and crispy crickets, this couscous bowl is a texture and flavor-filled bonanza, perfect for the more seasoned bugeater.
Dessert: Ant Creme Brulee
Get your ants at EntoMarket
This was originally going to be a lemon creme brulee, but we decided to forgo the lemon and use ants in its place.
Ants often taste sour and acidic, and depending on the variety, they add bursts of lemony flavor to a dish.
We used a torch to caramelize the sugar, and after struggling not to burn the ants too much, we indulged in the delight of cracking apart the sugary top of a crème brûlée and enjoyed the added little bursts of tartness.
Drink: Cochineal Beetle Juice
1 tbsp simple syrup
1/2 tsp cochineal beetles
1 tsp cherry syrup (or flavor of choice)
Time to introduce a new bug, the cochineal beetle, which is one you likely have already eaten or used! Cochineal beetles are a small white insect that feed off of the prickly pear cactus. When crushed, the cochineal beetle exudes a vibrant red color that has been used to naturally dye clothes, makeup, and food for centuries.
You may have heard about it after the Starbucks controversy, when they were using cochineal beetle coloring to naturally dye several of their drinks and treats, without warning vegans.
The beetle has a slightly sour/bitter taste and the coloring can be extracted simply by leaving it in water for a half hour.
We put a few beetles in our drinks, watched the brilliant carmine red flow out, and then added some light cherry flavor and simple syrup. We used water but this could easily be made into a more adult beverage
Tip: if you add in lemon, it will instantly turn orange!
Breakfast: Cricket Cold Brew
Its been warm out lately so I’ve been making coffee at night and putting it in the fridge until morning, but this time I did a little experiment.
I made some coffee and then poured it into a cup. Normal. I then placed a coffee filter over the cup and rubber banded it into place. Into the filter I poured a few tablespoons of cricket flour and left it with the filter and cricket four submerged into the coffee overnight.
In the morning, I pulled off the filter which was acting as a strainer and added milk and sugar as I normally do. The coffee tasted rich and was slightly nutty, almost as if I had added a hazelnut creamer to it.
Snack: Ants on a Log
I had come across this recipe online on a few occasions, and it always cracked me up. Of course normally ants on a log is a snack for kids with raisins and peanut butter, but why not use real ants? The sourness of the ants went great with the celery and the peanut butter and the whole Chirps team tried and approved! This is a highly recommended snack for those who take things very literally.
Dinner: Critter Veggie Platter
There isn't a specific recipe for this one, just the realization that insects go great with dips and charcuterie plates. I was at a networking event with appetizers, so I stacked some crickets onto crackers with dip or cheese in between.
I realize that after 2 weeks of this perhaps I'm starting to sound a little crazy with all of my suggestions of how to bugify your life.
Networking events may be considered an unusual place to eat bugs, but I’m starting to get use to it! More people than usual were curious and wanted to talk about what I have been doing. Plus, no one dared to shame me when I went back for a second and third plate.
Breakfast: Ant Parfait
This was one of my all-time, cutest creations. I highly recommend ants if you are new to eating insects, or for anytime you would want a bit of lemon-like bite or sourness to your food.
Quick ant fact: Emperor Qianlong of China, who reigned from 1735 to 1796 attributed his good looks and youth to his eating of ants! To this day, people claim eating ants can help for everything from immune system boosting to kidney and liver health. I haven't found any studies, but I am going to go ahead and attribute my youthful glow to my eating of ants as well.
Lunch: Mealworm rice and Naan
I went out to a nearby Indian restaurant for a team lunch and poured mealworms all over my dish. I kept adding more on because they have a great crunch and honestly I couldn’t really taste them.
I'm getting pretty used to the bug life. I was self-conscious at first about putting bugs on my food at a restaurant, but now I don't think twice, and mostly, I don't get asked questions. Even if they notice, waiters are generally too polite to comment.
(No chefs were offended in the making of this food.)
Dinner: Mealworm Falafel Pocket
Mealworms from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch
These were awesome. Mealworms are quickly becoming one of my favorite bugs. You can't tell they are in there but you still get all the added health benefits. I know I am supposed to explain what they taste like but I just have nothing to add here.
The only issue is still the name. I think people would be far more open to trying them if their name was a little more palatable. For instance Wendy, the CEO of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, calls them molitos!
Breakfast: Cricket Banana Flatbread
I actually used a cookie sheet instead of a loaf pan for this recipe (as I didn't have access to a loaf pan) hence the “banana flatbread”.
This banana bread is special because not only do I add heaps of cricket flour, but also loads of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
Lunch: Waxworm Tacos
From San Diego Waxworms
Waxworms? What!? Does this mean we have a new bug to introduce? While waxworms are actually a bit of a pest for beekeepers, they are full of Omega fatty acids, and are considered a delicacy in many places. They have an incredibly mild taste that takes on whatever you cook them in and are pretty fantastic.
Waxworms can be tricky to cook if you are unfamiliar with them, but just think about them similar to onions. From frozen, cook them on medium heat and stir continuously, as they heat up they will straighten out, become firm, and you will see some transparency around their edges, just like an onion.
Dinner: Bulgarian Cricket Moussaka
Crickets from Tiny Farms
I decided to have a bug cook-off with three of my friends, none of whom had ever cooked with bugs before.
The winner was a Bulgarian cricket moussaka. No one was exactly sure what Moussaka was supposed to taste like, but it was good regardless. Mousakka is a traditional Bulgarian dish that is heavy on the potatoes (as all the best things in life are) and ground meat, and is typically layered on top with eggs, onions, yogurt, and seasoning.
However, being their first time, they incorporated a 1/2 lb of cricket; which is a lot, especially in a wet dish. I would recommend chopping the crickets to make it an easier dish and reducing the quantity a bit. Even as an experienced bug eater, this was a bit much for me!
Day 18: Leftovers
I am swimming in buggy leftovers right now, so today there was no need to cook. However I must point out that some insects (such as mealworms, waxworms, grasshoppers, and ants) hold up better than others after several days in the fridge.
Bug count to date
I am eating an average of about 50-100 bugs per meal, so that means after 4 meals (including snack) for 20 days, I have eaten about 5000 bugs so far!
I'm calculating that I'm getting about 200% of my daily B12 each day.