Insect Cuisine: How to Eat (and Enjoy) the Environmentally Friendly Superfood

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Insects have high levels of fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content. Getty Images

Many Americans might turn up their nose at a grilled tarantula or mealworms on toast, but they’ll need to get used to the idea pretty soon.

As a 2013 report from the U.N. points out, the world’s population will grow to nine billion people by 2050. Our already stressed-out planet will have to double its food production, meaning that a steak or a sausage will become increasingly rare commodities.

Although Western societies have often regarded the global South’s penchant for eating insects as deeply unsavory, it turns out it might be the answer to our impending food crisis.

Insects are something of a miracle solution for an overfarmed, undernourished and meat-addicted world. With high levels of fat, protein, vitamins, fiber and mineral content, insects are often nutritionally comparable to, if not better than, fish and meat.

Producing insects for food is also extremely cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. Rearing insects emits far less greenhouse gas, and they also need far less water, food and space to grow.

The UN recently said that emissions need to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid catastrophic global warming, so insects may hold the key to weaning ourselves off the hugely wasteful and polluting meat industry.

The benefits of bug-eating will be old news to many people—insects form part of the traditional diets of at least two billion people, according to the 2013 U.N. report. And although it’s often assumed people in Africa and Southeast Asia eat insects out of desperation, research shows that assumption is incorrect—insects are just really delicious, as well as extremely good for you.

Insects are now making their way, slowly but surely, into Western diets, often through non-insect shaped foods like protein bars. But they’re also being included in their original forms in a number of high-end restaurants, many of which are looking for inspiration in Mexico, Thailand and other places where bugs are regularly eaten. The result is somewhat of a renaissance in insect cookery, which combines ancient recipes with modern presentation.

Are you curious about giving insect cuisine a chance, but don’t know where to start? We’ve run down some of the most delicious bug-based meals, drinks and desserts which prove that eating insects doesn't have to be a chore (or a nightmare), but can actually be a treat.

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Corn tortillas with worms and guacamole
Pre-Hispanic Mexican dishes offer a variety of insect dishes, including tortilla with ‘gusanos,’ or worms, such as maguey-cactus worms and agave worms.
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Grasshopper burgers
Insects can be crushed up and used as either flour or a mincemeat substitute in burgers. These burgers have a musty, earthy flavor.
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Margarita with a winged ant garnish
Insects in Backyard, a bar in Bangkok that offers an insect-based fine-dining menu, including this ant-garnished cocktail.
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Honey, almond and roasted bee cake
Don’t just stop at eating honey—now you can eat the bee too. This cake, found at a stand at an environmental fair at Berlin’s Schloss Bellevue palace, is made with roasted male bees.
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Watermelon salad with fried bamboo caterpillars
Add protein to a salad with fried insects—they’re more nutritious than croutons, and probably crunchier too.
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Worm chocolates
Insects don’t have to be confined to savory dishes. These worm chocolates can be found in Mexico City.
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Scorpion lollipops
These scorpions add a certain bite to the standard lollipop.
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Fried grasshopper with pandan
Grasshoppers work well when fried with herbs and spices, such as pandan, lemongrass, lime and chili.
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Silkworm tiramisu
If you’ve ever wished your tiramisu was silkier, this is for you. The desert, from Bangkok restaurant Insects in the Backyard, is made by mixing ground silkworms with mascarpone cheese. The toasted silkworms, used as a garnish, add texture.
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Grasshoppers and mealworms on couscous
This dish is pictured at at Cecile’s kitchen in south-eastern Netherlands’ Sittard. The insect themed cooking classes are designed for students seeking an environmentally-friendly alternative to meat.
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Seasoned scorpion
After removing the poisonous part of the scorpion, all it needs is frying in oil and a dash of light seasoning, such as salt, pepper and lime.
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