Chapulines on guacamole, Chapul bars for protein!


Insects: The new protein source?

Bugs could replace meat, but would you eat them?

When I was in Mexico City a few months ago, I ordered some guacamole with a twist; sprinkled on top of the avocado-rich treat were some roasted, salted chapulines (that's Spanish for crickets). Though I've been a vegetarian for 20 years, I don't have a problem with bug consumption, and I've always been interested in eating insects, since they are low-impact to raise, abundant and protein-rich.

Starre Vartan about to eat bugsThose I tasted at the high-end lunch-spot in Mexico City had a mild, smoky flavor (I'm not sure if that's their regular flavor or if they were smoked) and were well-salted, which made them a tasty accompaniment to the lemony, buttery guacamole. I enjoyed them, and though I spied a few legs here and there, they were mostly well-chopped, and not necessarily identifiable as bugs at all; without looking, and if I hadn't known they were there, I would have guessed they were some smoked and dried toothsome onions. I would have no problem eating them again, though I enjoyed them more as a garnish (albeit a heavy one) rather than a main course.

But there are people the world over who do consume insects (a practice called entomophagy) as a main part of the meal, from Thailand, where woodworms, crickets and bamboo worms are fried up and seasoned with something like soy sauce and pepper and enjoyed with a beer, to Ghana where termites are ground up into flour or roasted — food that tides people over nutritionally until spring crops start yielding food. In addition to chapulines, ant eggs, caterpillars and various worms are enjoyed in Mexico every which way (including in mezcal), and in China larval forms of various insects are enjoyed, including silk worm and roasted bee larvae, as well as ant soup. And in Brazil, queen ants (which supposedly taste like mint), are dipped in chocolate and munched down every October and November when they come out of their nests in Silveiras, a town in the southwest part of the country.

Here in the U.S., the Chapul Bar is the "original cricket bar" and is an energy/protein bar that's made from mashed insects and organic dates, nuts and chocolate. Each Chapul flavor is inspired by the region it comes from (and 10 percent of profits from that bar go back to help with water conservation projects in that area). I haven't tried them yet, but I'll be sure to review them soon!

Besides being a good protein source, insects contain beneficial minerals and vitamins, and have a much (much!) smaller environmental footprint (with crickets the smallest of all) that other meats. For comparison, a cow's carbon footprint is about 2,850 grams of CO2 per kilo of mass gained, whereas for pigs it's about 1,120, sun beetles around 121 and crickets just 1.27. Not to mention water and animal feed savings!

And insects are significantly healthier to eat than animals, too. According to the U.S. News and World Report travel section, "100 grams of top sirloin beef contains about 29 grams of protein in addition to a whopping 21 grams of fat, while 100 grams of grasshopper contains 20 grams of protein and a measly six grams of fat."

Since insect-eating is a cultural construct, if you find yourself disgusted about eating them, it's probably because of how you think about bugs, not how they actually taste (very few Americans I know have even tried them). Often the only time we have seen insects being eaten is on would-you-or-wouldn't-you gross-out TV shows like "Fear Factor."

Considering that, would you eat insects if they were cooked up? (I, for one, draw the line at eating them raw.) Why or why not? If the idea disgusts you, do you think you could get over it? What if you were visiting another country and everyone was eating fried ants at the bar?

I already know my answer. What's yours? 

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