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Incr – edible insect chefs around the world: Peter Bickerton
November 30, 2014
There’s been huge demand for Grub’s recipes; our kitchen can barely keep up, so we’ve asked some of the top bug chefs and innovators from around the world to share their passion and skills.
In this edition, we’re staying in the UK and talking edible to insect connoisseur Peter Bickerton, who made the news earlier this year because he’s been eating insects including Grasshoppers, Crickets and Waxworms for the last four years whilst at university. He’s been promoting the idea of eating insects as an ambassador for Thought For Food , and together they recently put on an edible insect feast including tempura Grasshoppers for audiences to try. We felt it was the perfect time to have a chat with him to see what else he’s been cooking up.
How long have you been eating/cooking bugs for?
I started really cooking bugs about four years ago, while investigating novel solutions to the global food crisis with Thought for Food. They really seemed like a much more sustainable alternative to what we currently have and if they’re a delicacy in pretty much every continent then why not?
Tell us about your first insect experience and what got you so hooked?
My first insect experience was actually in the rainforest of Ecuador in 2009. We ate some massive beetle grubs which had been barbecued and tasted amazing. Though, I must say I was put off for a couple of years afterwards when I bit into what I thought was a cooked grub and turned out to be completely raw. The texture was that of a raw tomato, along with the explosion. I haven’t eaten a raw tomato since, and I always cook my bugs (other than aphids, which taste amazing when bitten between your front teeth on the tip of your tongue). As I started to give more and more talks (ed – with Thought For Food) and put on more and more bug banquets I realised that with a little preparation and with the right ingredients, insects were not only sustainable but also unbelievably tasty. I would never have thought I would crave the taste of a locust. When I took them into work on occasion, as a snack for example, my colleagues would tuck into them with relish. I started taking them to friends’ houses and cooking them as part of meals, like you would any other food, and they were incredible. Things such as cricket Bolognese or locust stir-fry went down a treat. I’ve even cooked them at parties for people and on the occasional date! Willingness to eat insects is a good barometer for an outgoing and untrammelled person, I find (not that I exclude non-bug eaters, who are also lovely people.)
Do you have a favourite insect? Could you Describe the taste and how you like cooking it?
I’ve tried many insects but I always come back to grasshoppers as my favourite. They have such a variety of tastes and textures, especially when you prepare them in different marinades. I’ve recently switched from roasting them in chilli sauce to using a soy sauce / lemon / rapeseed oil marinade. I usually leave them in that mixture for around 20-30 minutes, then roast them at 180-200degreesC for 7-9 minutes, depending on how crunchy I want them. I tend to enjoy having a little squishiness, which I think brings out the real locust flavour – which is surprisingly sweet. I’d say the heads taste nutty, while the thorax and abdomen taste more like cooked meats such as chicken skin or bacon.
Another favourite is the silkworm larva. They naturally taste like the smell of a pine forest, so a little bit of oil is all I need for those!
Would you mind sharing a recipe for the readers?
A really simple one to get into cooking insects is to marinade grasshoppers in some sweet chilli sauce for around 30 minutes, then roast them at 180degC for about 7-8 minutes. While they’re roasting, melt some dark chocolate in a pan. Once they’re done, take them out, dip fully in the melted chocolate, and let them dry out. Chocolate sweet chilli locusts are absolutely delicious, and a great way of introducing them to people who might not have considered eating an insect before.
Are there any insects that you wouldn’t eat and why?
There are some I wouldn’t eat again. I have tried giant water bugs but these haven’t been particularly inspiring – and the wings tend to get stuck to the back of my throat! Apart from that, I’m open to eating most things.
What should we do as entomophagy enthusiasts to make eating insects more acceptable to Westerners?
I think, honestly, we need to hide the legs and wings. This is unfortunately a little beside the point, but people don’t think “cow” when they eat steak, so if people don’t think “locust” when they eat locust, this is probably the best way forward. People don’t care what’s in their food if they don’t have to think about it, in general. McDonalds is disgusting but they get plenty of custom!
What’s your favourite insect fact?
I really appreciate the sweat bee and how they came to be… there is a massive lack of salt in the rainforest, so I find it amazing that a whole group of organisms evolved in a way that they can get what they need from the skin of sweaty mammals. How wonderful!
What are your upcoming plans?
I have a fair few projects in the pipeline. I’ve recently moved to Norwich and have been spreading the idea of eating insects around the place. We’re going to get some insects on the menu at the Norwich Institute of Biosciences on the salad bar, some grasshoppers and mealworms perhaps, as well as some cricket cake. I’m also preparing a talk for the Sunday Assembly in Norwich in the New Year, as well as a bug buffet. Other than that, I’m in the process of researching a book on how to get past the “yeukk” factor and start eating insects.